Alonso, John­son driv­ing just for fun

The State (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JEROME PUG­MIRE

Seven-time NASCAR cham­pion Jim­mie John­son and two-time For­mula One cham­pion Fer­nando Alonso drove for fun to­gether around the Abu Dhabi F1 track on a blaz­ing hot Satur­day af­ter­noon.

Alonso took the wheel of the Mclaren 570S car, with John­son for once in the pas­sen­ger seat, as they com­pleted a few laps around Yas Ma­rina cir­cuit.

“Fer­nando was very, very up­set he couldn’t turn off the (sta­bil­ity) as­sis­tance from the car and the trac­tion con­trol,” John­son joked af­ter­ward at the Mclaren mo­torhome. “So we spent two laps try­ing to fig­ure out how to push the but­tons to turn that off. As soon as we got that off, we spun out.”

On Mon­day, they will swap race cars in Bahrain for an event they have been teas­ing about on their so­cial me­dia ac­counts in re­cent weeks. John­son will test a 2013 Mclaren; Alonso gets a shot with Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports’ num­ber 48 Chevro­let.

The 43-year-old John­son ar­rived in Abu Dhabi from the Mclaren head­quar­ters in Wok­ing, Eng­land, where he got a seat fit­ting and time in the Mclaren sim­u­la­tor.

“It was so im­pres­sive, the ar­chi­tec­ture and the land­scap­ing. I was there on a cool morn­ing with the fog off the lake, the mod­ernism of the build­ing and the cars sit­ting there in the lobby,” John­son said. “Sim­u­la­tors are very good for the flow of the race track and (know­ing) where the pit lane is. I was able to get that out of the way.”

Af­ter the last race of Alonso’s long F1 ca­reer on Sun­day, he will try his hand at what John­son does so well.

The Hen­drick car was shipped last month to Bahrain in a con­tainer that in­cluded tires and equip- ment for a full day run. Hen­drick also is pro­vid­ing a crew to work with Alonso when he drives the Chevro­let.

“Our car (is from 2018) yes. Sadly, the re­stric­tions for For­mula One (means) it is a five-year-old car, but I hear it’s a V8 (en­gine),” John­son said, com­par­ing the two cars be­ing used. “I miss that sound, which I know ev­ery­body does. So I’m ex­cited about that.”

The race swap idea was formed dur­ing a chance Jan­uary meet­ing in a wait­ing area at the Char­lotte Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. John­son was at NASCAR’S pre­sea­son me­dia avail­abil­ity, and Alonso was brought to the event by IMSA to pro­mote the Rolex 24 Hours of Day­tona.

“His pres­ence in Amer­ica has a huge ef­fect on Amer­i­can rac­ing, on For­mula One rac­ing, and on mo­tor­sports in gen­eral,” John­son said of Alonso. “Just the excitement value he brings to rac­ing and the way he’s por­trayed in the U.S.”

Alonso won F1 in 2005 and ’06, and his 32nd and last GP win was in 2013 while with Fer­rari.

The 37-year-old Spa­niard has grown more in­ter­ested in pur­su­ing other rac­ing in­ter­ests and is aim­ing to win mo­tor­sport’s Triple Crown of the 24 Hours Le Mans, the In­di­anapo­lis 500, and the Monaco GP.

Last year, Alonso skipped the Monaco GP, which he has won twice, to com­pete at the Indy 500. He led for 27 laps be­fore his en­gine blew. In June, Alonso won Le Mans at the first at­tempt.

“Any­body in mo­tor­sports ap­pre­ci­ates other forms of rac­ing. It’s maybe not in your back­yard … but we all watch and en­joy it,” John­son said. “Fer­nando’s put on many great bat­tles over the years.”

John­son said he would take the op­por­tu­nity of rac­ing in F1 “in a heart­beat” but knows that’s far from re­al­is­tic.

“The last sin­gle-seater I drove was prob­a­bly in 1996, maybe ’95 even,” he said. “So it would be crazy to think I could come in and just im­me­di­ately be there.”

His more re­al­is­tic goal is at­tempt­ing to win an eighth NASCAR ti­tle. He is tied for the record with Richard Petty and Dale Earn­hardt.

“The com­peti­tor in me wants to do it. I want to be the best,” John­son said.

LUCA BRUNO AP

Mclaren driver Fer­nando Alonso of Spain, right, is flanked by seven-time NASCAR cham­pion Jim­mie John­son be­fore the pair took a Mclaren 570S out Satur­day on the Yas Ma­rina race­track in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emi­rates.

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