INDIANAPOLIS – William Byron got the thrill of a lifetime on Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The 24-year-old driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 went for a ride in an IndyCar two-seater with racing legend Mario Andretti. Prior to and after the ride, Byron would debrief and catch up with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion turned IndyCar driver Jimmie Johnson. Byron’s former teammate would give him some insight into what its been like to drive in a new discipline as well as talking about the shift to the Next Gen car in NASCAR. Byron also got to meet Johnson’s IndyCar teammate, Marcus Ericsson.
Prior to hopping in the car, Byron admitted that he didn’t think he had ever rode in a race car as a non-driver. Andretti even offered the two-time winner in 2022 a chance to drive but Byron was excited to get a lap around the 14-turn, 2.439-mile course from the 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner.
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One difference in the rides was immediately apparent as Byron was getting in when Johnson quipped, "it takes a little getting used to having people strap you in."
Upon coming back in from his lap with Andretti, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native was pumping his right arm, thrilled at his experience. When he was getting unbuckled, he immediately exclaimed, "that was cool."
After getting out of the car, Byron and Johnson chatted about the experience and the difference between the Cup Series cars and IndyCar.
"I felt like my knees were the only thing holding me in," Byron said. “The braking was nuts.”
Johnson acknowledged that "the braking performance and just the cornering potential. It’s so fun."
"With all the downforce, our brake traces we build in to build pressure so we can avoid the wheel hop and here they want it vertical," Johnson explained. "I still have a few degrees where if you look at the data I still kind of creep in to peak power. They literally want you to just to pop it at 1600 psi and then you have all the downforce on the car so unlock the tires and then you are matching the downforce level and trying to have like a triangle shape for your brake trace."
"For us, you know how it is," Byron said. "You go in, you brake hard and then you modulate and still brake hard."
"If you have to add more brake pressure on entry later in the brake zone, you will absolutely lock the tire every time," Johnson said. "It’s been a very interesting thing to learn. How to be disciplined in that first hit and even if I’m not ready to turn the wheel, I just get going on the brake because if you lock, its only worse especially on a street course. That’s how I busted my hand."
The California native asked the rising Cup Series talent how the transition to the Next Gen car had gone.
"It took awhile to get used to it on entry because you would feel like, man, I’m just so tight getting on entry," Byron said. "You just can’t quite because the nose isn’t down giving that positivity. That felt weird."
The conversation turned towards the recently announced Chicago street race set for July 2, 2023. Having done a bit more in the road and street racing disciplines, Johnson was excited for what Byron will experience in that event.
"I think you’re going to have a blast," Johnson said. "I think the cars are going to fit it so well. The track is going to be rougher than anything you’ve ever been on."
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