Over a decade after his last NASCAR race, Kimi Räikkönen is set to do it again. On Thursday, Trackhouse Racing Team announced the 2007 Formula One World Champion will return to stock car racing by entering his maiden Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International on 21 August. He will drive the #91 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
During his first exit from F1 in 2011, he began dabbling in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series and now-Xfinity Series, respectively finishing fifteenth and twenty-seventh. Both starts were at Charlotte Motor Speedway, an oval that is a far cry from the circuits that he grew up on. Conversely, he will not have to worry about mastering an oval this time as Watkins Glen is one of six road courses on the Cup schedule and a former F1 track.
Räikkönen would have made his Cup début later in 2011 at Sonoma Raceway for Robby Gordon Motorsports. However, a test at Virginia International Raceway ended after twenty laps when he went off course and the car’s splitter dug into the grass, damaging the front. While the Cup start was aborted, his interest in racing persisted even after returning to F1; in a 2014 interview with CNN, he said he “really enjoy[ed] the whole NASCAR thing. It’s just completely different and fun. It was a good experience. “Hopefully I can do more someday.”
Having retired from F1 after the 2021 season, the Finn has a much more open schedule to try other things, like serving as the team principal for Kawasaki Racing Team in the FIM Motocross World Championship. A visit from Trackhouse owner Justin Marks suddenly had him back in America.
“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 programme,” Räikkönen commented. “This 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.”
Räikkönen’s lone Truck start coincided with Marks running what was supposed to be a full season in the series for Turn One Racing; Marks finished the race in ninth. Ten years later, now retired himself, Marks founded Trackhouse. The team has enjoyed a strong 2022 season with Daniel Suárez and Ross Chastain, the latter of whom has already won twice.
On Tuesday, the team announced the formation of PROJECT91 to get international racing drivers into a Cup car. Räikkönen will be the #91’s only planned race in 2022 before the programme expands in 2023.
“Kimi Räikkönen is the driver I first had in mind when we created PROJECT91,” said Marks. “Kimi is a world-renowned driver with a tremendous amount of talent and fan following. We have had long discussions, and like us, he is already hard at work preparing for Watkins Glen.”
The 42-year-old is not the only F1 driver to race in the Cup Series, let alone a World Champion. 1997 champ Jacques Villeneuve finished twenty-second in February’s Daytona 500. In 1967, Mario Andretti won the Daytona 500 eleven years before the F1 title, while twice-titlist Jim Clark did a one-off at Rockingham (1970 champion Jochen Rindt served as reserve driver) and thrice-champion Sir Jackie Stewart failed to qualify at Charlotte. Other F1/NASCAR crossovers include Olivier Beretta, Christian Fittipaldi, Dan Gurney, Narain Karthikeyan, Jan Magnussen, Juan Pablo Montoya, Max Papis, Nelson Piquet Jr., and Scott Speed. Gurney and Montoya are the only other names to have wins in both.