Former Formula One
Former Formula One Raikkonen on competing in NASCAR as Project91’s inaugural driver: “What do I have to lose?” While establishing a storied career as a Former Formula One world champion driver, Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen also established a renowned reputation as “The Iceman.” Raikkonen handled himself in a direct and plain-speaking style on his road to 21 career F1 victories and the 2007 world championship, best reflected in legendary radio soundbites such, “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing” during the course of his Grand Prix career.
Given that persona’s development in an international context at the Former Formula One, it’s easy to say Raikkonen was out of his element driving a NASCAR Cup Series vehicle at Watkins Glen. Raikkonen, on the other hand, was very much in character when asked why he would take the risk of attempting – and maybe failing – in NASCAR.
“I don’t see any danger,” Raikkonen said. “What’s the harm?”
Raikkonen is make his NASCAR Cup Series debut this weekend as the very first driver for Trackhouse Racing’s Project91 for foreign drivers, after retiring from Former Formula One at the conclusion of the 2021 season. Although Raikkonen has prior NASCAR experience, having competed in the Xfinity and Truck Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2011, his trip to Watkins Glen will be his maiden attempt at the top level of stock car racing.
The goal for the 42-year-old Finn this weekend is to perform as well as he can given the limitations in how he could prepare at the Former Formula One. With NASCAR testing severely controlled and limited, Raikkonen’s most substantial experience behind the wheel of a Cup car came last week at Virginia International Raceway in a NASCAR-run Select Driver Orientation test. Raikkonen raced a generic Next Gen vehicle rather than his Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet this weekend.
I believe we did our best to prepare for a minimal quantity of anything. “It’s a big challenge, but it’s also a lot of fun,” Raikkonen added. “We’ll see how we fare.” I’m sure the quick men here have been doing it professionally for years. So it’ll be difficult, but we’ll see what we can do.”
Despite his lack of expertise in stock cars, Raikkonen performed well in Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions at the Former Formula One. Raikkonen qualified 27th for Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen after producing the 20th-fastest time in practice and posting a better lap time than numerous full-time Cup rivals.
That qualifying score coincides with Raikkonen’s 27th-place finish in his lone Xfinity outing all those years ago, demonstrating just how hard NASCAR is, and how impossible it is for even a world-class driver of Raikkonen’s ability to compete with those who race stock cars for a profession at the Former Formula One. For others, the chance of failure may be enough to frighten them away and keep them from venturing beyond their comfort zone, lest they damage their personalities or egos as racing stars.
But, true to form, Raikkonen seems unconcerned by such issues.
“What have I got to lose?” What, that I did poorly in a NASCAR race or in any race?” Raikkonen inquired. “I don’t mind. I just do it for me. It might happen, for better or worse for the Former Formula One. Even if I ran 20 races, they may all be horrible for a variety of reasons. I don’t see any drawbacks.”
While Raikkonen’s presence has highlighted an exciting international weekend for NASCAR (a record seven nations are represented in Sunday’s starting grid), he has said that he has no intentions for any future NASCAR races beyond this weekend. Raikkonen will be Trackhouse’s lone foreign driver this season, but vehicle owner Justin Marks revealed that the business plans to run the program in six to eight races next year, with a concentration on road courses as well as significant events like the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600.
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