Donuts in the desert: NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson and F1’s Fernando Alonso complete car swap in Bahrain

After months of planning the car swap between NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and F1 champion Fernando Alonso went off without a hitch in Bahrain Monday.

The event took place at the Bahrain International Circuit a day after Alonso ran his final F1 race in Abu Dhabi. The Spaniard is leaving Formula 1 to try other forms of motorsports.

Monday’s event featured a Hendrick Motorsports prepared Chevy and a 2013 McLaren MP4-28 F1 car.

Although he had not been scheduled to drive the F1 car, Alonso took a few laps around the 5.124 KM track setting a lap time of 1:40.204 second.  Later Johnson’s best lap was 140.462 seconds, only .2 tenths off Alonso’s time.

“Impressive,” Alonso said after Johnson’s run. “I think he was really gaining time every run he was going out.

“Sometimes you put new tires on these cars for the very first time and you are not able to extract the grip… but he was able to guess this extra grip that the new tires are giving to you and extract that grip into laptime so I was very impressed with that. He took it very seriously.”

“We came for a full day of testing, I put four sets of tires, I think he put three or four sets of tires, and we were swapping the cars, having fun, but also we wanted to feel the new environment in a representative way and in a speed that we could feel something that it was close to what they feel normally,” he added.

For Alonso his laps in the NASCAR stock car were like going back in time.

“I knew that the cars were very basic in terms of technology,” Alonso said. “Last time I ran H-gearbox was in 1999 [in Euro Open by Nissan], so it was going back a lot in time. The car was very powerful for the amount of grip available, so you have fun driving on the race track. Maybe with other cars around it is different but definitely alone it was a lot of fun.”

Johnson had never driven a single-seater on a road circuit.

“It was mind blowing,” said Johnson who spent the weekend in Abu Dhabi attending the season-ending F1 race with his family. “The sensation of speed…Literally on the first outing, my helmet was trying to leave my head, and I was staring at the microphone in my helmet it was so high! I was like ‘I don’t want to stop but I think I should…’ got my helmet more under control and then it was really my eyes trying to find their way far enough ahead and far enough round the turns.

“At the end I really quit focusing on the braking markers themselves and was able to look at the apex and had an idea of when to hit the brakes and was putting together some good laps. It was fun.”

Johnson admitted that while the event was for fun, he is a racer and tried hard to beat Alonso’s time.

“I didn’t know how close I would get,” he said. “The racer in me was of course focused on that and I was straight away asking, ‘What was his laptime? Can I look at the data and try and piece that together?’

“He had that same opportunity in my car to look at that data and go after it,” he added. “I honestly think at the end of the day I got a way better swap experience than he did.”

The event ended with both drivers performing burnouts in their respective cars along the frontstretch.

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.