Johnson and Alonso Discuss Car Swap
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT - NOVEMBER 9, 2018
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S POWER OF PRIDE CAMARO ZL1,was joined by two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso via Skype from Sao Paulo, Brazil during his media availability to discuss their impending ride swap in Bahrain. Full Transcript:
CAN YOU TELL US HOW THIS ALL CAME TOGETHER?l
JIMMIE JOHNSON:"Honestly, the January press conference or press day that we had in Charlotte, North Carolina for the NASCAR series is when Fernando and I had a chance to meet and kind of throw this idea into motion. 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. 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. Started in January and here we are in November finishing it off."
MULTIPLE DRIVERS HAVE DONE CAR SWITCHES BEFORE, DO EITHER OF YOU PLAN ON REACHING OUT TO DRIVERS WHO HAVE SWITCHED CARS BEFORE?
FERNANDO ALONSO:"No, in Formula 1 the guys we are not the best friends, so we don't talk a lot about these things. But yeah, I will have enough time with Jimmie obviously in Abu Dhabi and I will have some recommendations."
JIMMIE JOHNSON:"Yeah, I have talked to Jeff (Gordon) myself and he has been very adamant that I work on my neck muscles. It's something that we don't use a lot in a NASCAR vehicle with our head surround systems. And then my various open-wheel driver friends have all said the same thing. I look like a complete and total idiot with bands in weird positions trying to work on my neck muscles and we will see if my neck will hold on long enough to really get a chance to run laps and have some fun in that car."
WHAT TYPE OF INFORMATION IS IMPORTANT TO YOU TO KNOW ABOUT NASCAR RACING?
FERNANDO ALONSO:"No, I didn't have the chance to talk to them about this (McLaren technologies). I've been traveling recently to a lot of races, but yeah, I will probably have the best information coming from Jimmie as I said and some tips and recommendations with the team. So, yeah, I'm really curious, obviously it's going to be a privilege for me to drive a NASCAR car for the test time with a legend along side me. I'm looking forward. It's exciting."
WHAT WAS YOUR TEAMS REACTION TO THIS?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:"Yeah, I think our guys are super excited to go. Obviously, with our long schedule it's difficult to get literally on a plane and fly halfway across the world to go do this. We offered it up to a select few. We can't take a huge group over, but some that the schedule just didn't work for their families and being home, but the guys that are going are avid motorsports fans and avid F1 fans and really excited to see their equipment and hopefully come to Abu Dhabi and watch on Friday or Saturday before they have to get back over to Bahrain to set-up for our event on that Monday. So, there is a lot of curiosity and I think a lot of respect between the two teams and between the two industries and we are all kind of curious to see what the other side is about."
WHAT WILL YOU BE LOOKING FOR DURING THIS TEST? ARE THERE CERTAIN THING YOU MIGHT SEE THAT MIGHT MAKE YOU WANT TO RACE THESE CARS AT SOME POINT?
FERNANDO ALONSO:"Well the first thing I think is going to be to have fun. I think we all love racing, any type of racing and to test for the very first time a NASCAR car with the huge following and all the repercussion that NASCAR has in the world of motorsports for me the first thing that I want to experience and I want to have that opportunity in life and it's happening now in a couple of weeks' time. That is the very first thing that I want to do and to have fun is the first priority. 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."
AS YOU ARE ANTICIPATING THIS EXPERIENCE IS ONE OF THE THINGS YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IS THE DIFFERENCES IN BRAKING?
FERNANDO ALONSO:"Well, yeah, unfortunately maybe I will have the wrong braking points of references on my mind. The first couple of laps probably it will be interesting to see the difference between the cars and the approach of the lap. But hopefully I can adapt quick enough and maximize a little bit of potential, not at the level or Jimmie or the guys there, but to have a reasonable pace and performance that I can enjoy. Yeah, I will be more curious to see Jimmie from the outside braking before Turn 1 the first lap."
JIMMIE JOHNSON:"Yeah, I think we are both going to miss turns, but I'm going to have to put it back in gear and move up to the apex, where Fernando stands a chance of just missing the turn altogether. Just as an example like at Watkins Glen, the braking marks start at the five for the bus stop and in the Cup car in race conditions the brakes get some temperature in them, we are lifting before that five marker. And in a Rolex car that I've competed in there, you are down about the one and a half to the one and in a Formula 1 car, I guess I might not even need to lift for that section of the track. So, there is a huge difference in the braking and that is of course one thing I can't wait to experience and then the high-speed turns just to feel that much downforce and how light of a vehicle the F1 car is."
IS THERE ANY CURIOSITY AMONG YOUR COLLEAGUES ABOUT THIS EXPERIENCE?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:"Yeah, my friends are all pretty jealous. You can imagine what Clint Bowyer had to say. Anybody in motorsports wonders what the other vehicle can do and what it's like and I'm sure on the Formula 1 side there is curiosity as well. Our guys are pumped and looking forward to it. I've had family members claiming they are going to stowaway in the container and they didn't realize the container left a long time ago. It is going to be a fun day and I can't wait to come back and see everybody and tell them about it. I know when Jeff (Gordon) and Tony (Stewart) both did it, I was very drawn to watching the TV piece and then asking them questions after."
FERNANDO ALONSO:"More of the same here 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. 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."
WHAT DO PEOPLE THINK OF NASCAR OUTSIDE OF AMERICA?
FERNANDO ALONSO:"I think we have a lot of respect for NASCAR. We are not probably into the details of the races and the regulations and all this with the Playoffs and all these things that we maybe are not up to date, but we see NASCAR as a top of motorsports in the US (United States) and that means a lot. Some iconic races that you have on the calendar which is pretty intense a lot of races into the year and yeah, we see NASCAR in not every detail and on the regulations, but with a lot of attention. We are all aware that in motorsports that it is one of the top series and legends like Jimmie they are made there in NASCAR."
IS IT A CURRENT ROAD COURSE CAR THAT IS GOING OVER THERE? WHAT WERE THE LOGISTICS TO GET THE CAR TO BAHRAIN?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:"Yeah it is. It's our back-up car from the ROVAL event. The way the timing worked out, it worked out well, we figured we would have a road course car freshly prepped and ready to go. We kicked around other dates where we were going to swap cars and somewhere in the US. The opportunity in Bahrain developed and just made a lot of sense. Obviously, it's just something really different and that was of importance to me. Let's do something different and let's truly get time in each other's cars. I think the other swaps have been pretty limited on laps and Fernando wants to get in there and run laps and I want that same opportunity in his car. So, things kind of came together through the summer months. Immediately after the ROVAL race we needed to get the container packed and put that on a ship and the ship has arrived in Dubai and there are a few more stops that it needs to make, but it should arrive in Bahrain probably a week before the event takes place and will be transferred over to the race track and then our guys will get there probably a day or two in advance and start unpacking, unloading and getting the pit stall set-up and everything up and running. And then it's got to come all the way back obviously after that."
(JIMMIE TO FERNANDO) FERNANDO DO YOU THINK I COULD LOAD THAT F1 CAR IN THE CONTAINER AND YOU CAN KEEP THE NASCAR VEHICLE?
FERNANDO ALONSO:"No problem for me. (Laughs) Jimmie do you know the track at Bahrain? Are you playing the game?"
JIMMIE JOHNSON:"I have it downloaded on my phone, so I've been playing on my phone and then also on PlayStation. I'm trying to get laps."
WHAT WENT INTO CHOOSING BAHRAIN AS THE SITE TO MAKE THIS RIDE SWAP?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:"We were looking at a few places here. We looked at the Brickyard. We looked at Homestead. We looked at Charlotte. We looked at a few different places, but obviously their equipment is on the run all the time. So, trying to understand where their equipment would be in North America between the Austin race or something in Canada or somewhere around Mexico City. And when all of that started coming together, we wouldn't necessarily have equipment ready on our side. So, we just kind of ran into a few snags and it felt like it wasn't going to work right. And when Zak Brown (chief executive officer) from McLaren mentioned Bahrain, I believe one of the investors in McLaren owns the Bahrain track (Bahrain International Circuit), so it just made to go there. We kicked around the idea of doing it in Abu Dhabi the Monday after the race, but I guess there's a test session for their industry on Tuesday and Wednesday and the logistics of that weren't working out too well. Bahrain isn't all that far away in the scheme of things. They have their own test teams and they're sending their test equipment over there and it just kind of works out.
"Another piece to it too is I just wanted to do something different than what had been done in the past. I think Jeff (Gordon) and Tony (Stewart) had great opportunities. They were unique experiences at very cool race tracks, and I just wanted to kind of have my own twist on it as well. With Fernando's desire to run a lot of lap and not just a lap or a handful of laps, this opportunity really made the most sense."
DID YOU ALREADY TRY A FORMULA ONE SIMULATOR? IF NOT, WILL YOU DO SO PRIOR TO THE SWAP?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:"I have not been in a simulator for an open-wheel car yet. But, after Homestead concludes, Monday we fly to London. I'm going to be in their Simulator at Bahrain and get in some laps so I can just figure out how to leave the garage area for starters, I guess. So, there are a lot of new things going on and the simulator will really be able to help me with that and learn the flow of the track and the braking marks and all that stuff. So, I'm excited to spend the day at McLaren. I need to be fitted for a seat, as well. So, that'll take place and then we have some days to burn. I've never been to the Middle East. So, my family and I are going to travel around and explore and then make our way to Abu Dhabi on Saturday to watch qualifying and watch their race weekend. And then late Sunday night, we'll move to Bahrain."
BOTH NASCAR AND ISC JUST ANNOUNCED THAT NASCAR HAS OFFERED TO BUY OUT THE SHARE HOLDERS OF ISC WHO AREN'T MEMBERS OF THE FRANCE FAMILY AND MERGE IT INTO ONE PRIVATELY-HELD COMPANY. WHAT WOULD YOU THINK IF THE SANCTIONING BODY ALSO OWNED RACE TRACKS AND WHAT COULD THAT DO FOR THE SPORT?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:"Has that been announced?"
IT HAS BEEN OFFERED. IT'S UP TO ISC TO DO SOME RESEARCH AND EXPLAIN IT TO THEIR NON-FRANCE-FAMILY SHARE HOLDERS FOR IT TO GO THROUGH
JIMMIE JOHNSON:"That's a lot to process. But, my initial reaction, I think that could eventually lead to flexibility for a schedule. Do you shorten the schedule? There're all these questions. And I think that unity and that collaboration, or those two entities combined would be a step in that direction. It would hopefully open those doors to let those conversations really happen and progress be made. That's pure speculation, of course, on my part, but that's where my first thoughts go."
WHAT PEOPLE WITH HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAVE YOU SELECTED TO TAKE ALONG ON THIS VENTURE?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:"Yeah, and we had to get passports and everybody locked-in. Alan Gustafson is going to go and crew chief for us. Chad (Knaus) has put in a ton of time and effort and work on the project, but with the new baby and the end of the year when it falls, he's choosing to stay back and stay home. And then we have offered it up through the No. 48 side, initially; and honestly, it's taken a few twists and turns of people who can and can't go, so I don't know everybody specifically who is going, but Alan will be the one calling the shots over there for us."
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Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.