Watkins Glen might be the only appearance for Trackhouse Racing’s PROJECT91 this year, but team founder Justin Marks is already plotting its future.
The idea behind the program is for elite international drivers who are interested in NASCAR racing have a route to compete at the sport’s highest level. Marks flew to Switzerland to pitch to Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 Formula 1 world champion, as the driver to kick things off.
“I think moving forward, PROJECT91, the road courses are really the ideal places to bring guys like Kimi in just because of the experience on the road courses,” said Marks. “I think it’s a quicker learning curve, and they can get up to speed a lot more quickly than ovals.
“Ultimately, PROJECT91 is a program that operates at all of the road courses during the season and then potentially some of the other tentpole events like the Daytona 500 or Coca-Cola 600. Something like that.
“I think at some point, you get so many races you have to look at actually fielding a third full-time car. But I think for PROJECT91, it’s a six to eight race program, potentially, next year and beyond. And it’s a brand extension of Trackhouse. I think we can get really unique on the content side and the merch side and just create great stories. That’s sort of where I’d like to see it go.”
Trackhouse Racing only expanded to two full-time cars this season as Marks bought the assets to Chip Ganassi Racing. There was hiring and moving around personnel, moving into a different shop, beginning to work independently and so forth.
Then came the idea of a third car, which Marks admitted he didn’t necessarily plan out all the details before launching. It’s taken a lot of time and effort to get to Watkins Glen, and throughout the process of getting PROJECT91 ready to race, Marks has been taking in all the feedback from the company on what it takes to put together another program.
“[Watkins Glen] is really our opportunity to sort of build this program, see how it impacts the operations of the company to field a part-time third car,” Marks said. “I’ve been telling people we haven’t hired one person for this project. A lot of people within Trackhouse have been doing time-and-a-half to get this to go. So this is really about what it looks like to field a part-time third car as far as on the operations on the company.”
Raikkonen doesn’t think he has anything to lose in competing in a NASCAR Cup Series race. He said Saturday morning that he’s looking forward to the challenge as well as racing against new competition.
But Marks has high expectations for Sunday. After seeing Raikkonen arrive in the United States ready to go, he was not only impressed but felt he was going to “haul ass” after seeing how he was preparing.
Marks is confident Raikkonen will have the speed, preparation, and fitness pieces taken care of before getting in the car.
“I think where the heavy lift is understanding procedurally how the race goes, making sure there’s no drama in the pits and on restarts and things like that,” Marks said. “I think if we do all that, I think anything is possible. I really do believe anything is possible. We have to run a good strategy and get a little bit lucky, but what he has shown at the test and in the sim and some of the other things we’ve done, I don’t have any issues with the pace or preparation. I think it’s going to be right on par.
“So, if we do a good job for him as a team, I think we could have a very good day.”