MITCHELL Johnson is used to striking fear into the hearts of Test batsmen – but his latest challenge is one that’s got him shaking in his boots.
His racing boots that is.
Johnson has been training at Barbagallo Raceway in a Radical SR3 car, a precursor to the F1000 racing series.
He’ll have his first competitive hit-out at the track this Saturday.
The 37-year-old retired from all forms of cricket last month, after a glittering career that yielded 313 Test wickets in 73 matches.
In his pomp Johnson was the most feared bowler in world cricket, with a top-recorded speed of 156.8km/h while he was busy destroying England in 2013.
But now he has a different need for speed, getting behind the wheel of a race car to keep the competitive juices flowing.
“I’ve always loved my cars, I’ve always had that passion,” Johnson said.
“I did the Telethon lap challenge a couple of years ago, came up against a few racing drivers and a couple of celebrities.”
The experience reignited Johnson’s passion for speed, and for the past few months he’s been training hard with Arise Racing at Barbagallo to hone his skills.
Johnson said initially he felt some apprehension, but he was able to draw on some of the scarier moments of his cricket career.
“I faced Shoaib Akhtar when I was playing for Queensland,” he said.
“He’s got this massive run-up – the first ball, I was sort of shaking there.
“His first ball, hit for four, it was a full toss and I ran past and said ‘please don’t hit me’.
“It was almost the same as the first time I was driving out here.”
Johnson said the constant mental application needed for motorsport was a challenge.
“You’ve got to be focused the whole time when you’re out in a race car – you’re flying,” he said.
“You’re so on the whole time.
“Cricket you can switch off – when you walk back to your mark, that’s when I used to switch off.
“Definitely the mental exhaustion is there, but the physical side of it as well.
“Your neck gets a little bit sore, the body starts to feel it – you’re strapped in pretty tight.”
Johnson has two young children with his wife, karate champion Jessica Bratich-Johnson, and admitted his partner was a little apprehensive about his new vocation.
“There’s definitely worry there, but at the same time she understands I love my cars,” he said.
“I’m doing it in a safe environment, I’m on the track, I’m strapped in, the cars are set up for it.
“For me it’s that release – it’s not quite the same as what I got with cricket but it’s a great adrenaline rush for me to get my mind off things.”
Johnson said the rush of bowling the first ball in an Ashes series and flying round Barbagallo were “both pretty similar”, and he said he was enjoying the challenge.
“You’re going pretty quick, you’ve got so many technical things to think about, when you’re going to turn into the corner, braking, feeling the car,” he said.
“It’s been a great process – I’m starting to really enjoy it.”