By Alan Baldwin
WOKING, England (Reuters) - A smooth-chinned Jimmie Johnson declared Christmas had come early after the seven times NASCAR champion test drove McLaren's Formula One simulator ahead of a car swap with Fernando Alonso next week.
The 43-year-old, who joked that shaving off his beard for last weekend's series finale at Homestead had left him looking more 'low drag' for Formula One, will test a V8-powered 2013 McLaren in Bahrain on Monday.
Double Formula One world champion Alonso, who starts his last grand prix in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, will meanwhile get his hands on the American's Hendrick Motorsports number 48 Chevrolet.
"It’s amazing. To actually feel all of that downforce on the brakes and through the high-speed turns was like Christmas came early," Johnson told Reuters shortly after stepping out of the simulator at the Woking factory.
"Really, really awesome. Quite an experience.
"I already have a taste for a lot more, how do you not want to continue to enjoy this?," added the 83-times race winner who has a contract with Hendrick through 2020.
Johnson said he spun a few times, caught out on the throttle on exiting corners, but knew what to expect on the braking and was able to challenge himself there.
"The last open-wheel vehicle I drove was a buggy back in the mid-90s. so it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the front tyres of my race car -- intentionally saw the front tyres of my race car," he added with a smile.
"So that was quite an experience."
Johnson sent Alonso a useful tip sheet about his car on Tuesday, posting a picture on Twitter of the clutch, brake and accelerator pedal in the latest bit of social media banter between them.
"I don’t think he’s used the clutch pedal on a race car for quite some time," he said, with Formula One cars having only a brake and throttle with paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
"Our cars are very different technology but at the same time we both like going fast and we’re going to love the experience of driving each other’s race cars."
While Alonso would have a more authentic experience driving the car on an oval, Johnson still expected the Spaniard to find it a thrill.
"Our cars do go very fast so I think in Bahrain he’ll have plenty of straight line speed. The brakes won’t impress him. The overall ability to slide the car is something I think he’ll really enjoy," he said.
While Alonso is leaving Formula One after Sunday's season-ender, he will remain within the McLaren fold as both gear up for a return to the Indianapolis 500 next May, a race the Spaniard led last year.
Alonso triumphed at the Le Mans 24 Hours with Toyota this year and the double Monaco Grand Prix winner is now chasing Indy to complete the 'Triple Crown of Motorsport'.
Johnson, who said he probably had "two to four more years" at the top level in NASCAR, is also keen to explore new horizons.
"I doubt I would ever get a shot at a Formula One car but there are plenty of other cool cars to drive. I spent some time driving prototypes in America so I do have a taste for sportscars," he said.
"I love to drive anything honestly, just to have these great experiences."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)