Jimmie Johnson, Fernando Alonso to swap rides for a day

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A random meeting in January will lead to “the chance of a lifetime” for Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson and Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso, who met in Charlotte in January during NASCAR’s Media Day, will drive each other’s race cars Nov. 26 at Bahrain.

“He mentioned something there and we just stayed in touch,” Johnson said of where the idea spawned.

This is more than Johnson just jumping into Alonso’s car. Johnson will tour the McLaren shop and test on the team’s simulator.

“We really want to have a full day to experience each other’s cars and mess around,” Johnson said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports shipped a car Oct. 9 to go by boat to Bahrain for Alonso to drive. Johnson said the team “packed the container with plenty of tires and equipment to let him run as long as he wants to get the full experience, and they’re offering that same thing to me.”

Johnson said the challenge was to find a place for them to run each other’s car. Originally, they looked at tracks in the U.S., including Indianapolis, Homestead-Miami and Charlotte but schedules didn’t work. Eventually, the idea to do it overseas after the NASCAR and Formula 1 seasons ended made the most sense.

To prepare, Johnson has done additional neck exercises because of the additional G-forces he’ll endure in Alonso’s car. It was a tip Johnson gained from Jeff Gordon, who drove Juan Pablo Montoya’s Formula 1 car in 2003 at Indianapolis.

“In talking with Gordon, he had the ability to run more laps in the setup that they had but his neck wouldn’t let him,” Johnson said. “Our cars, especially on the brakes, we do not create the Gs and we only have a couple of road courses a year, so our neck muscles are pretty far behind (F1 drivers).”

The last time a NASCAR driver and Formula 1 driver switched cars was 2011 with Tony Stewart and Lewis Hamilton at Watkins Glen International.

“It’s the ultimate car,” Johnson said of why he wants to try the F1 car. “To feel the downforce of one of those cars has always been in the back of my mind. I’ve always wanted to experience it.”

For those wondering, Johnson said he has no hint that Alonso is doing this to consider a future racing NASCAR. Alonso will leave F1 after this season. 

“I have seen plenty of chatter about that on social (media),” Johnson said of speculation of Alonso driving some in NASCAR. “He’s not led me to believe any of that. If I was in his shoes and had the opportunity to go drive an oval, I would have taken it if NASCAR was the destination for me. He wants to drive it on the road course. Maybe he has some road course ideas if he was to come. He has not led me to believe in any way shape or form there’s more than this.”