A chance meeting in Charlotte was all it took to set plans in motion for a ride swap between seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso.
Johnson explained that during NASCAR’s preseason media tour in January, “Fernando was coming through on his way to the Rolex 24 and we had a chance to meet. I think many of you saw the picture and obviously, saw Fernando there. He only had to mention it once, he said ‘hey man, would you ever want to trade cars?’ I’m like ‘heck yeah.’
“Immediately, we started the process with our teams and it’s been a very fun process. Everyone at McLaren has been fantastic.”
Alonso said the ride swap is about having fun – not an audition for a different motorsports discipline in the future. The two-time Formula 1 champion has two races remaining, including this weekend in Brazil, before he retires from F1 racing after this season.
“That is the very first thing that I want to do, and to have fun is the first priority,” Alonso said Friday from Interlagos, where he appeared via video chat for a joint news conference with Johnson, who is at ISM Raceway for the penultimate race of the NASCAR season.
“But, yeah, I think ultimately what you want is to be a better driver in the future, so I probably will learn things from the team, I will learn things from Jimmie and different driving styles, different techniques, different approach of racing and all of that will make a better driver for myself. That is the second thing.
“To racing in the future, I think the first thing is to test the car, to see how it feels, to see how enjoyable it is to drive it and who knows in the future. I don’t have a key answer to that question.”
Braking points in a stock car could be an exciting experience, Alonso said.
“The first couple of laps probably it will be interesting to see the difference between the cars and the approach of the lap,” he said. “But, hopefully, I can adapt quick enough and maximize a little bit of potential, not that the level or Jimmie or the guys there, but to have a reasonable pace and performance that I can enjoy. Yeah, I will be curious to see Jimmie from the outside braking before Turn 1 the first lap.”
For months Alonso and Johnson have teased an upcoming collaboration on social media. Last weekend it was confirmed the two would swap rides on Nov. 26 at the Bahrain International Circuit, which is the day after the F1 finale at Abu Dhabi. Johnson will attend the race.
Alonso will drive a No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet that served as Johnson’s backup for the Charlotte road course race. The car and other materials were packed in a container after the Charlotte race to begin their journey overseas. It should arrive in Bahrain a week before the swap takes place.
Asked if he was going to reach out to other drivers who have done ride swaps, Alonso said, “No, in Formula 1 the guys we are not the best friends, so we don’t talk a lot about these things. I will have enough time with Jimmie obviously in Abu Dhabi, and I will have some recommendations.”
Johnson has talked to Jeff Gordon, who swapped his DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo for Juan Pablo Montoya’s BMW Williams FW25 at Indianapolis in 2003. According to Johnson, Gordon recommended he work on his neck muscles.
“It’s been great to watch Formula 1 with a whole new interest knowing that I get a chance to drive Fernando’s car and go watch the final race in Abu Dhabi two weeks, I guess it is and then have a chance to driver the car in Bahrain,” Johnson said. “Started in January and here we are in November finishing it off.”
Both drivers agreed that their online tease was effective in triggering worldwide curiosity about the event.
“From the day we posted the first video there has been a lot of curiosity and a lot of questions from my colleagues here, all the drivers, teams, mechanics that I find here in the paddock and especially the fans,” said Alonso. “Not only here at the race, it is also on the social media there were a lot of questions and a lot of interest about this exchange.
“I think the whole people of motorsports they are curious to see what is going to happen and obviously a lot of question how they can follow the event that you will know very soon.”