NASCAR Champ Johnson Tests Cadillac at LMS
NEXTEL Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and 17 SPEED World Challenge Series regulars tried out the Lowe's Motor Speedway "roval" Monday during testing for the road racing series' inaugural visit to the legendary NASCAR track on Thursday night, May 24.
Drivers from the Grand Touring division of the SPEED World Challenge will battle in a 50-minute race as part of CTC Pole Night which also includes NASCAR NEXTEL Cup qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600.
Sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America, the GT division of the SPEED World Challenge features sedans, convertibles, coupes and two-seat automobiles with either rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. Horsepower for GT race cars ranges from 425 to 550 and the cars offer an exotic appeal with a low body profile and a large rear wing. Corvettes, Porsches, Ferraris, Cadillacs and Mercedes are among the challengers.
Road courses such as Sebring, Long Beach and Watkins Glen dot the series' 10-race schedule, but the Lowe's Motor Speedway event will be the only time competitors battle on a combination oval/road course. The track includes a majority of the 1.5-mile superspeedway along with two road course elements; a left-turn/right-turn combination that will take the cars from the front straightaway to pit road near the entrance to Turn 1 and a left-right chicane that will slow the cars near the entrance to Turn 3.
"We want to add a new dimension to CTC Pole Night qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600," said H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president and general manager of Lowe's Motor Speedway. "When you've got the Porsches, the Corvettes and the Cadillacs, you've got special cars that the people in the grandstand are really going to enjoy.
"I would like to run the race on the oval, but my heart can only stand so much of that. We want to have a close competitive race, and I think this will do it," Wheeler concluded.
Fresh from his victory Sunday in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Johnson was among the fastest cars in the No. 48 Cadillac CTS-V.
"I'm definitely learning the limits of the car today," Johnson said. "I spun out and took out one of the barriers on the backstretch, so I've learned the limit of the brakes. The way the car maneuvers through the corners feels very similar (to the Cup car) and that was the thing that shocked me the most. It drives a lot like a Cup car, it really does."
Johnson has won seven NEXTEL Cup races at Lowe's Motor Speedway, including two NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenges, but that experience may not help when he has to make both left- and right-hand turns on Thursday night, May 24.
"I don't think my experience on the ovals will make a difference," he said. "The reason I say that is that we're accelerating and shifting gears through the NASCAR turns, so the line and the approach are different."
Johnson also explained that it seems strange to slow for the sharp left-hand turns on the high-speed oval.
"It took me three or four times to make the chicanes," he said with a big smile. "The one on the backstretch, I missed it two or three times.
The visual references-there's nothing there I'm used to seeing to stop the car and I don't know how fast the car stops. I'm still learning all of that."
The SPEED World Challenge competitors are anxiously awaiting the opportunity to showcase their cars and driving ability to NASCAR fans.
"Racing here during a NASCAR weekend will be a good thing for us because the new Cup cars-the Car of Tomorrow-look like our cars of today,"
said veteran road racer Tommy Archer, who wheels a Dodge Viper. "We've been racing cars with wings for quite a while, so it's something we're used to in road racing. Also, we like to play in front of a lot of people so I think it's going to be cool."
"It's a lot of fun to go up on the banking and go full throttle all the way around," said Eric Curran, who drove his Chevrolet Corvette to victory in the season opener in Sebring, Fla. "The speed is higher than we see on a normal road course, but that makes it more fun. I think the race will be great and the fans will love it.
"It's good for World Challenge to come here on a Cup weekend and get a lot of exposure," Curran continued. "I don't know how many people will be here, but I'm sure it's more than we see during a normal weekend. Also, the fact that Jimmie Johnson is coming in to run a Cadillac is another positive because we need as much exposure as we can get."
"We've always raced with the American Le Mans Series, but now we're branching out to NASCAR and the fans will get an exciting race," said Lawson Aschenbach, who drives one of the three Cadillac entries. "They don't get to see these types of cars, cars that you can drive on the street and relate to. It's always great racing and always comes down to the last lap. The series is very entertaining."
Tickets for CTC Pole Night, which includes the SCCA SPEED World Challenge race and qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event, are just $12 in advance and can be purchased by calling the speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS or online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.