Trackhouse Racing’s NASCAR Cup Series team has a splashy name to kick off its new international driver program: Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 Formula One world champion.
Raikkonen will drive the Trackhouse “Project 91” car on Aug. 21 at the Watkins Glen International road course. The 42-year-old becomes the first driver named to the new No. 91 car, which team owner Justin Marks said is being reserved for world-renowned racing figures who are looking for a landing spot in NASCAR.
Finland’s Raikkonen, who retired from F1 last year after 19 seasons and 350 races, has previous stock car experience. In 2011, he traveled to the United States to drive in an Xfinity Series race and a Truck Series race for Kyle Busch Motorsports at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
He got up to speed fairly quickly and later expressed an interest in doing a Cup race at some point.
“I hope one day (to come back),” Raikkonen said in 2014. “Obviously I didn’t know how it is, so when I came to U.S. to do that, I was very pleasantly surprised by how nice and how fun it was.
“It’s not easy, like any popular sport, but I really enjoyed the time. Hopefully I can do more of those and hopefully in the future some Sprint Cup. We’ll see what happens.”
Raikkonen, known as “The Iceman,” had 21 wins and 103 podiums during his lengthy F1 career. His blunt nature made him a popular figure in the F1 world, and his visit to NASCAR will certainly be greeted with enthusiasm.
Trackhouse has not made any further announcements for its lineup of races or drivers, but Raikkonen’s presence signals the door is open for other major names to join its roster for one-off events in the future.
(Photo: Kamran Jebreili / Pool / Getty Images)
What’s the significance of this announcement?
Jeff Gluck, motorsports staff writer: This is a brilliant move by Marks, who suddenly has made his team the destination for any big name who wishes to come try NASCAR. Though NASCAR fans always play the what-if fantasy game about seeing their favorite drivers from other series make starts in the Cup Series, there hasn’t been a logical landing spot in the past.
NASCAR’s charter system limits teams to four entries, so elite teams like Hendrick Motorsports would have no room to field an additional car — even for the biggest stars in the world. If Trackhouse can get a third part-time team that becomes the de facto spot for international drivers to race in Cup, it will be an absolute win-win for everyone.
What other drivers could we see drive the Project 91 car at some point?
Jordan Bianchi, motorsports staff writer: The opportunity to compete in a Cup Series race and do so with a competitive team is going to be an enticing prospect for many international drivers who otherwise wouldn’t likely entertain the possibility. Two names that immediately come to mind are Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo.
Alonso, a two‐time Formula One world champion, has stated many times his goal is to compete in a variety of disciplines outside of Formula 1, and has already raced in the Indianapolis 500, Rolex 24 at Daytona, 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Dakar Rally. Competing in a NASCAR race, especially something like say the Daytona 500, would fit the goals Alonso seeks to accomplish. As for Ricciardo, currently driving for McLaren in F1, his affinity for NASCAR is well documented and he has said he’d like to one day make a NASCAR start. In fact, this option makes too much sense for it to not one day happen.