Former F1 World Champion, Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen will hopefully make his debut in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on Friday night at Charlotte, North Carolina.
Hopefully? Hopefully is as much as you can say at the moment. There are forty-five entrants for the race and only thirty-six will be allowed to start. The top twenty-five cars in the owners' points table – not drivers table – are guaranteed to start, the rest go through qualifying as “go or go-homers”.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is known as being a difficult track, a drivers track, and many seasoned observers were surprised that RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen chose this place for his baptism. The ten days at Charlotte which start with practice for the trucks, encompasses the All-Star Race, a non-championship event for Sprint Cup Series cars with its own unique format plus a one million dollar prize for the winner, and finishes a week Sunday with the championship series Coca-Cola 600 Sprint Cup race is one of NASCAR's big events. This is not going to be a discreet introduction to the sport.
It is not all negative for RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen, though. Firstly, he is being entered in the no.15 truck prepared by Kyle Busch Motorsports. Kyle Busch has entered five of the six truck races so far this season and has finished, 5th, 2nd and won three times. In 2010 he started 16 of the 25 races, finished in the top ten fourteen times including eight wins. If there is one man you want on your side as you try your hand at truck racing Busch would be that man.
RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen has had three days practicing in the Toyota Tundra, two at Gresham where he worked his way up to respectable times reasonably quickly, and then more recently at Rockingham, a popular test venue for NASCAR teams from all three series, and where RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen surprised his crew by getting back up to speed in just a handful of laps.
Driving Camping World Trucks is not just about fast laps when running alone on track, though. RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen is going to have to learn how these race cars will change in feel not only during the race but also during each run on a set of tyres. Have the truck set up to run fast on restarts from caution flag periods and it will probably be really loose (oversteering) towards the end of the run. Set it up for good neutral handling for the bulk of the run and the driver will almost certainly be passed on the restarts.
Learning how to set the truck up so that it is as good as can be overall for the whole of a run is the skill that RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen is going to have to learn but of all the experience he has it is probably his rally driving that will be most help to him, understanding and feeling the car underneath him as it, and the track surface, changes.
He is also going to have to get used to the aero effect with NASCAR racing. Another truck running alongside his and maybe just slightly forward or back can take away his aero and have RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen spinning in to the wall. It happens often and it happens to the very best of the drivers such as Todd Bodine.
Additionally RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen is going to have to learn how double file restarts work, how he could qualify for the wave-around during caution periods and myriad other rules peculiar to NASCAR racing, but officials from the organising body will guide him through all of that during the driver meetings. Fail to attend those and he will be starting from the back.
RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen will have as his crew chief, Doug Howe, who helped Michael Waltrip win the season opening race at Daytona in the no 15 truck and whose experience will undoubtedly guide RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen through set-up, both for qualifying and for the race, and with understanding the “system”.
It all happens in just the one day, two practice sessions on Friday morning, qualifying at 4 pm, Eastern Time, and the race begins at 8 pm.
If you have access to Sky TV the race can be seen on channel 433, Premier Sports TV, free and live starting at 1 am on Saturday morning, UK time. Look for the truck sponsored by Perky Jerky, beef jerky strips marinaded in Guarana – a berry common in energy drinks. Who could resist?