AVONDALE, Ariz. – Back in January, Jimmie Johnson and Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso ran into one another at a media event in Charlotte, North Carolina.
During a brief chat, Alonso brought up the idea of a car swap.
“He only had to mention it once,” Johnson said. “I’m like, ‘Heck yeah.’”
From there, the idea gradually turned into a reality. And on Nov. 26 at Bahrain International Circuit, the two champion drivers will pilot one another’s rides.
Friday at ISM Raceway, Johnson and Alonso discussed the opportunity with the media. Johnson was in the media center and Alonso joined via Skype on a Microsoft Surface Laptop.
“There’s a lot of curiosity and I think a lot of respect between the two teams and between the two industries,” Johnson said. “We’re all kind of curious to see what the other side’s about.”
Neither driver knows quite what to expect when they take the wheel of a brand-new vehicle, and both acknowledged they will lean heavily on the advice of the other once they arrive at the track.
“We all love racing, any type of racing,” Alonso said. “I’m really curious. Obviously, it’s going to be a privilege for me to drive a NASCAR car for the first time with a legend alongside me.”
To prepare for the one-day event, Johnson said he will travel to London the day after the NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to spend the day at McLaren and get behind the wheel of a simulator to get a better feel for the challenge he’s about to tackle.
“There are a lot of new things going on and the simulator will really be able to help me with that and learn the flow of the track and the braking marks and all that stuff,” he said, noting that he will also be fitted for a seat during the visit.
Johnson joked that both drivers will likely miss a few turns as they get a feel for the different rides, particularly the braking.
“The first couple of laps will be interesting,” Alonso chimed in.
At the track in Bahrain, Alonso will pilot the No. 48 team’s backup Chevy from the Bank of America ROVAL 400, so he will have a car already set up for a road course. As for Johnson, he will be guided by No. 9 team crew chief Alan Gustafson during the event.
“(No. 48 team crew chief) Chad (Knaus) has put in a ton of time and effort and work on the project,” Johnson said, noting that with a new baby at home, the timing wasn’t quite right for Knaus to make the international journey. “Alan will be the one calling the shots over there for us.”
While several other drivers have executed similar car swaps, including former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, Johnson is excited to “kind of have my own twist on it” with the international trip and the full day of testing to truly get a feel for the Formula 1 car.
One thing was clear from Friday’s media session – both drivers are excited about the opportunity.
“I will be more curious to see Jimmie from the outside,” Alonso smiled. “To have fun is the first priority.”
“It is going to be a fun day,” Johnson agreed, “and I can’t wait to come back and see everybody and tell them about it.”