Justin Marks and Trackhouse Racing have given Kimi Raikkonen a comprehensive workbook ahead of his NASCAR Cup Series debut next weekend, and the team co-owner is confident the former Formula 1 world champion will be ready to hit the ground running.
“We’ve put together a preparation protocol for him that’s pretty extensive,” Marks said. “I think he’s going to be able to show up at practice at Watkins Glen ready to go for it right when practice starts, which is the goal.”
Raikkonen, who retired from F1 last year, will be the first driver for PROJECT91, the third Trackhouse Racing car that Marks wants to use for international racers interested in NASCAR. The goal for Marks is to make the program one of the most compelling and interesting things going in motorsports, and Raikkonen’s debut is just the start.
Today, Raikkonen is testing the Next Gen car at Virginia International Raceway after sitting in one for the first time at the Trackhouse Racing shop Tuesday to get fitted. Marks said it is a prototype of one of the original Next Gen cars used during the development phase, and the test is allowed under NASCAR guidelines. Officials updated the rule book in June with a testing section for a driver with “elite credentials” interested in making a Cup Series start.
— PROJECT91 (@THProject91) August 11, 2022
Raikkonen spent Wednesday doing simulator time with teammate Daniel Suarez. More sim work is also in Raikkonen’s future.
“He’s very, very focused,” Marks said. “It’s impressive, actually.”
— PROJECT91 (@THProject91) August 10, 2022
Much of what’s ahead for Raikkonen is to be expected for a driver who hasn’t run a Cup Series race. The test will allow him to get a feel for the brakes, gearbox and other areas. There will be pit practice where Raikkonen will work with the team outside the Trackhouse race shop. A lot of it is Marks wanting to make sure areas of how a race is put together are covered: learning the track, car setup, feeling out the car.
“Then outside of that, just understanding the rules and procedures and how the race is going to go,” said Marks. “How to maximize practice, how to get the most out of the tire in qualifying and then how we get through the race with no penalties, understanding the pit stop procedures, the yellow procedures, wave-around, all that kind of stuff, so there’s no drama around that. And then just go race.
“I think honestly, probably the easiest and simplest part of this whole thing is going to be his rate of adaptation, his aggression, and his speed in the race car because his level of preparation has been impressive to everybody here.”
Raikkonen, nicknamed The Iceman, scored 21 grand prix wins over his 19 Formula 1 seasons, winning the world championship in 2007. The Finn, who was among the most popular drivers on the F1 grid, is also not unfamiliar with NASCAR.
In 2011, Raikkonen made both an Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series star, driving for Kyle Busch in both at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Raikkonen finished 15th in the Xfinity Series race and 27th in the Truck Series race the following weekend.
“I’m optimistic [and] I have high expectations,” Marks said. “I think that the speed and the race craft and adaptation to the track and the car is not going to be an issue at all. Just spending time with him in the shop, the way he was prepared when he first showed up here in America — not just 24 hours ago — he was asking questions about [Ross Chastain’s] pit penalty at Michigan, he had questions about short pitting stages and how to work strategy backward at the road courses. He has really done a lot of work and preparation, and that’s not surprising to me because that’s what it takes to be as successful as he’s been in Formula 1 for so long.
“From a speed and preparation and knowledge standpoint, I think he’s going to be right on par. I think where the challenge is going to be is making sure he understands the race from a procedural standpoint — that he understands the rules and all that. So, we’ve prepared a document for him that shows point-of-view imagery of pit entrance and where the pit light is, about where the lines are, commitment cones, all that kind of stuff, because that’s where he’s really got the steepest learning curve. [Things like] not driving through too many pit boxes, not committing to pit in too early, not pulling out of line before the start/finish line on the start, speeding — those things where you can get pinched, and those penalties will take the whole day away from you.
“That’s where the heavy lift will be and where I think we’re focusing a lot of our attention in making sure he’s educated. But the way he showed up ready to get fitted in the car, I have high expectations. I think he’s going to haul ass.”