ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – DECEMBER 12: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Alfa Romeo Racing walks on the grid ahead of the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on December 12, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Kamran Jebreili – Pool/Getty Images) | Getty Images
The iconic Watkins Glen International road course in upstate New York has hosted a myriad of different racing series over the years, including Formula 1 races for two decades in the 1960s and 1970s, and has since been an iconic stop on the NASCAR and IMSA programs. .
It is therefore perhaps only fitting that, for the first time in the history of the NASCAR Cup Series, a record number of seven different countries will be represented by competitors this weekend at Go Bowling at the Glen on the 21 August (3 p.m. ET in the US, MRN and SiriusXM Radio NASCAR); including the multiple drivers representing the United States, Daniel Suárez of Mexico, sports car aces Mike Rockenfeller of Germany and Kyle Tilley of England, NASCAR Euro Series champion Loris Hezemans of the Netherlands and a pair of former F1 drivers Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and talented Russian driver Daniil Kvyat.
Raikkonen’s involvement is the result of a new relationship NASCAR team owner Justin Marks (Trackhouse Racing) hopes to establish between NASCAR’s premier series and some of the world’s most renowned drivers in other disciplines. race. Raikkonen will drive the #91 PROJECT91 Chevrolet, marking the start of the team’s third part-time entry – an innovative concept for the sport by bringing a global superstar like Raikkonen to the grid.
For Raikkonen, 42, it won’t just be his NASCAR Cup Series debut, but it will be his first NASCAR start since 2011 when he competed in a NASCAR Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“Really before all the work was done to build a brand and actually build what PROJECT91 was, I had to find someone who would give it immediate legitimacy and be interested in doing it,” Marks explained. “And for me, very quickly, it was Kimi. He’s obviously interested in NASCAR because he’s been in it before. And he just retired, so he has time to do that.
“The genesis of PROJECT91 was just my desire as a racing fan to see cool things happen in racing,” Marks added. “A Formula 1 driver coming to NASCAR and being competitive at the Cup level is a good thing.”
This has certainly been the universal reception of Marks’ idea.
Having ex-F1 drivers in NASCAR isn’t necessarily new. Juan Pablo Montoya won 13 Grands Prix in six years of Formula 1 competition (2001-06), then raced full time at NASCAR Cup Series level from 2007 to 2012, winning two races. Last February, 1997 Formula 1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve competed in NASCAR’s biggest event, the Daytona 500. And Kvyat will be making his second NASCAR Cup Series start for the Hezeberg team after competing on 31 July at the Indianapolis Road Course.
But the idea of having a rotating roster of championship-level drivers from other racing disciplines is a new take on the concept. And he was well received in the racing world.
“I wasn’t looking to race again, but Justin came to my home in Switzerland and convinced me how serious he was about putting together a top-notch program,” said Raikkonen, who has driven for iconic teams such as McLaren, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo during his celebrated 19-year F1 career.
“It will be fun, but it’s something I will take very seriously. I know how competitive the NASCAR Cup Series is and it will be a big challenge.
A big challenge perhaps, but Raikkonen will show up in America this week to balance heavy expectations.
Romain Grosjean, a former Haas F1 Team driver who competed against Raikkonen in Formula 1 and is now a full-time driver for Andretti Autosport in the NTT IndyCar series, strongly believes that Raikkonen is capable of a good competitive finish, if not a a victory. No matter where Raikkonen ends up, Grosjean says the whole experience is a win-win situation.
“And I’m sure he will be warmly welcomed by the drivers,” added Grosjean. “He’s a world champion and he’s had an incredible career. And the guys know he’s a really good driver that they can compete against.
Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion, would agree with Grosjean on this. And Busch – driver of the No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota in the NASCAR Cup Series – is similar to Raikkonen in that he has also competed in a wide variety of racing disciplines – from the Pro Stock class to the National Hod Rod Association (NHRA) to victory. Racing rookie with a 12th place finish in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 in the NTT IndyCar Series.
“I think he’s going to do well,” Busch said without hesitation. “He will make an incredible impression with our sport. His professionalism and what he brings from the world of F1 and everything he has done in his career will be a nice refreshing boost for some of the guys to watch and some of the guys to race against.
Raikkonen jumped into a stock car at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) last week before heading to New York for the race this weekend. Moreover, he has undergone SIM training, and already Raikkonen is optimistic about the experience.
“I’ve always enjoyed my races there,” Raikkonen said of his experience in the United States ten years ago. “I hope I have a good drive and have a good time.”
The sheer opportunity to expand the competitor pool is reason enough to believe that the PROJECT91 team will be successful. It’s a great opportunity for fans to witness a more diverse and certainly acclaimed line-up of racing.
“I think the interest has always been there, it’s just because NASCAR is so unique and it’s seen around the world as this interesting form of racing that’s huge in our country that doesn’t exist anywhere. anywhere else,” Marks said. “I think for people who are real motorsport competitors at this level, they would all love to try it out and see what it’s like to run a NASCAR race because there’s nothing else in the world like that.
“Hopefully PROJECT91 is a stepping stone for more international participation in the sport because we’re going to show the world of motorsport that we have a car you can get into and you can race and be competitive with as long as the effort around you are right.
“So hopefully this is the start of great things.”
–NASCAR Wire Service–