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November 26, 2018

Championship swap: Jimmie Johnson, Fernando Alonso turn laps together

Jimmie Johnson and Fernando Alonso participated in a motorsports cultural exchange Monday, swapping rides at Bahrain International Circuit.

Johnson, a seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, got behind the wheel of Alonso’s McLaren for his first drive of a Formula 1 car. Alonso, a two-time champ on the grand prix circuit, piloted Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the 3.363-mile course.

PHOTOS: Behind the scenes from swap

Johnson turned 28 laps in Alonso’s McLaren, reporting through social media his amazement with the responsiveness and G-forces produced by Formula 1 cars. Both drivers’ names were represented on each car.

Johnson and his family attended the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend as guests of Alonso and the McLaren team. He watched Alonso finish 11th in his final Formula 1 event as he retired from full-time driving after 17 years in the sport. Reigning F1 champ Lewis Hamilton won the race.

Johnson drove a 2013 F1 model from McLaren, which attached a makeshift windscreen to help the airflow around Johnson’s helmet after a test run.

“I got my helmet more under control, and then it was really my eyes trying to find their way far enough ahead and far enough around the turns,” Johnson told ESPN. “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.”

“It was impressive,” Alonso told ESPN of Johnson’s effort. “I think he was really gaining time every run he was doing, and sometimes you put new tyres on these cars for the very first time and you are not able to extract the grip because you miss a little bit the braking point here and there, or maybe you don’t maximize the grip available. But he was able to guess this extra grip that the new tires is giving to you and extract that grip into lap time, so I was very impressed with that.”

Johnson said earlier this month that the idea for an international ride swap emerged after the two champions met at NASCAR Media Day in the offseason. Alonso was in Charlotte, North Carolina, for media opportunities on his way to IMSA’s Rolex 24 endurance race at Daytona. Their conversation there set the wheels in motion for Monday’s exchange.

Alan Gustafson — normally the crew chief for Chase Elliott, Johnson’s teammate — oversaw preparation of the No. 48 Chevy for Monday’s event.