Johnson started the #48 Action Express Cadillac, which required a new chassis being built up after he crashed out of qualifying at Turn 17. Mechanics only completed the job at midnight, ahead of the 12 Hours that started just after 10am local time.
But less than 15 minutes into the race, Johnson spun again at Turn 17, clipping the JDC Miller Cadillac of Loic Duval after running too wide while attempting to lap some GTD cars.
“I was trying to work around some GT cars and just got too wide,” Johnson told NBCSN. “There’s a lot of black [rubber] down there and I thought there’d be grip outside of those guys and there certainly wasn’t!
“I was in the marbles, hit a bump, and around I went and unfortunately collected Bourdais I believe [it was Duval] in that car. Nose damage was all, we put a new one on and the car is still driving great, turning fast laps. Just playing a little catchup now.”
Fortunately, Johnson was able to pit immediately for a new nose, and didn’t lose a lap. His early pitstop put the car off sequence, so he later led for seven laps before handing over to teammate Simon Pagenaud.
When asked about track conditions, Johnson replied: “Grip level is down, but it’s coming up now as the track rubbers in. Wind direction is also pretty different, so that’s playing into the ill-handling cars too.”
Pagenaud and third driver Kamui Kobayashi will now drive double stints each to get the car back into contention, with Johnson next likely drive later this afternoon.
Although this is his Sebring 12 Hours debut, Johnson’s pitwall has a familiar look with longtime NASCAR crew chief Chad Knaus handling his strategy and team boss Rick Hendrick also watching on.