What subsequent for Raikkonen after his NASCAR Cup debut? - Motor Informed
NASCAR

What subsequent for Raikkonen after his NASCAR Cup debut?

Will Kimi Raikkonen’s urge for food have been sufficiently whetted by his first style of the NASCAR Cup Sequence to return again for extra? That is the million greenback query.

Over time, this author has coated ex-Components 1 stars Mika Hakkinen, Jean Alesi, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and David Coulthard within the DTM and the likes of Nigel Mansell, Gianni Morbidelli, Derek Warwick and Johnny Herbert within the British Touring Automobile Championship. So why does a driver, who’s carried out nicely and achieved nice issues on the very pinnacle of motorsport, really feel the necessity to put a roof over their head?

From a primitive perspective, the lack of white-hot competitors is definitely a powerful motivator in every case, as is a discount of earnings (albeit let’s assume they not precisely residing on the breadline) and an ego-driven requirement to stay within the limelight to show their abilities.

And whereas spending extra time with household after a demanding, time-consuming profession is fascinating, after some time it’s comprehensible that drivers relish the prospect of getting again to having some enjoyable with some like-minded mates on the observe. As a lot as racing drivers would love you to imagine they’re multi-faceted, amazingly cultured people, expertise suggests they’re not all fairly as multi-dimensional as they’d want you imagine. However they completely crave competitors, and when you’ve tasted a contest on the rarefied stage then that tooth-and-claw battle is a troublesome one to stroll away from utterly.

When NASCAR Cup Sequence outfit Trackhouse Racing first launched its Challenge 91 initiative and its intentions to draw a high worldwide star, Autosport journalists picked out who they’d like to see in the hot seat. “Kimi Raikkonen has raced in NASCAR Vehicles and Xfinity earlier than, and he have to be losing interest now,” I wrote. And lo, it got here to move.

Why NASCAR?

Previous to Watkins Glen on Sunday, Raikkonen hadn’t began a motor race for the reason that 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the final of his 349 F1 begins. His glittering profession is topped by the 2007 world championship, together with 21 grand prix wins and over 100 F1 podiums.

Within the 251 days since, a person who’s raced virtually 100,000km in an F1 automotive hadn’t pushed a racing automotive really in anger till Sunday’s race at ‘The Glen’. It definitely was enjoyable to see him again in motion, and it appeared like private enjoyment was his true driving power all weekend. After his couple of Truck and Xfinity Sequence begins throughout his hiatus from F1 in 2011, it appeared a very good match each for Raikkonen and Challenge 91’s ambitions.

Raikkonen got back into the cut and thrust of racing in an unfamiliar environment against an all-new cast of rivals at Watkins Glen

Raikkonen received again into the lower and thrust of racing in an unfamiliar setting towards an all-new forged of rivals at Watkins Glen

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

“It’s quite a bit completely different than after I was right here the final time,” stated Raikkonen, reflecting on his toe-dipping NASCAR races on the Charlotte oval. “It’s very relaxed.

“The schedule is quite a bit completely different than it was final time. What occurred to many sports activities after COVID was that they discovered that we actually don’t must spend as many days over the weekend on the observe. Clearly, in hindsight, it might be higher for me if we had extra observe, however that’s how it’s.

“I actually prefer it. It’s much more of a household ambiance right here than in F1, so I prefer it.”

Raikkonen was accompanied all through his weeks-long US odyssey with spouse Minttu and his son and daughter. Whereas it’s fairly uncommon for F1 drivers to have their complete younger households round them, in NASCAR it’s the norm to have their companions and children on the pit stand if they need – or hanging out in enormous motorhomes that always have a playground close by to maintain the small ones entertained.

Usually, Raikkonen confirmed completely no concern within the early phases of the race in moist circumstances. He ran as excessive as 14th early on earlier than pitting for slicks

And whereas they have been doing their factor, Raikkonen was in a position to do what he enjoys – driving racing vehicles – in addition to having some banter together with his new rivals.

“Usually, it’s simply good to race whoever it’s going to be,” he stated. “It’s at all times thrilling once you race towards folks that you simply haven’t raced towards earlier than.

“[In NASCAR] they’re very skilled. The foundations are barely completely different than what I’m used to, however I’m completely satisfied to be right here and meet the fellows. I keep in mind from the final time – they’re very relaxed, easy-going and it’s simple to speak to different drivers. It’s a bit completely different than what I’m used to from the place I come from.”

Whereas many write Raikkonen off for his often-monosyllabic responses to fluffy questions, his racing coronary heart is true. Ask him about James Hunt or Colin McRae and he’s fairly the chatterbox, and the F1 historical past of Watkins Glen didn’t move him by both…

“Clearly I do know a bit little bit of the historical past of F1 being right here and have seen some outdated movies from it,” he stated. “It’s an ideal place and a pleasant space. It kind of looks like the center of nowhere, however I take pleasure in that. It’s good to be right here.”

Raikkonen enjoyed bringing his family with him to the track, with the NASCAR paddock

Raikkonen loved bringing his household with him to the observe, with the NASCAR paddock “much more of a household ambiance” in comparison with F1

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

Why it was by no means going to be simple

Whereas the DTM, World Endurance Championship or perhaps a return to the World Rally Championship might need been simpler for him, Raikkonen went for an virtually utterly alien tradition for his first post-F1 begin and walked into the proverbial lion’s den for a one-off cameo within the latter half of a keenly-fought NASCAR Cup season.

Due to NASCAR’s testing guidelines, he didn’t get days of pounding round a take a look at observe as as an example Mansell had throughout his 1998 BTCC cameo. West Surrey Racing boss Dick Bennetts tells an ideal yarn about bringing a top-end catering unit to a non-public take a look at at Pembrey, solely to search out the 1992 F1 world champion sat in his Jaguar consuming sandwiches that his spouse had made for him. That stated, there was a photograph doing the rounds of Raikkonen in his RV with a cream cake and a can of Perrier…

Earlier than his Cup debut, Raikkonen received a few hours in a Subsequent Gen take a look at automotive on the VIR street course – mockingly the place he as soon as tore up one in all Robby Gordon’s Dodge Cup vehicles in 2011 – and a few classes in Chevrolet’s NASCAR simulator. The primary time he truly drove his #91 Trackhouse Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was a 20-minute observe session (twice interrupted by crimson flags) straight earlier than qualifying on Saturday, which he correctly handled like a race run.

He certified 27th, which Raikkonen was fairly content material with attributable to his lack of observe time. Fleeting moments of sheer brilliance, coupled with an understanding of simply how troublesome and specialised the collection is, is fully frequent from my expertise of overlaying these aggressive ex-F1 animals.

Maybe extra importantly, Raikkonen’s involvement created a chance for F1 followers to be launched to a brand new racing collection – and Sunday’s Cup race at The Glen was a enjoyable one (as soon as it received going after a considerable rain delay), with divergent methods, some implausible wheel-to-wheel racing and a usually hard-fought end.

It’s a credit score to Raikkonen to simply how nicely he was acquired by the NASCAR paddock. Martin Brundle tells an epic story in regards to the Worldwide Race of Champions collection, a one-make inventory automotive collection that ran in America within the late 1980s and ’90s, through which he excelled. He was getting set for the Michigan superspeedway finale, sat by his automotive, when Dale Earnhardt Sr paid a go to and gave a couple of sage phrases of recommendation: “Don’t neglect your children”.

Distinction that with Ryan Blaney asking which seat Raikkonen had taken in a earlier press convention – simply so he may sit there – which demonstrated the reverence through which the Cup regulars held the Finn. It appeared that he was raced clear and truthful all through, till the unlucky conflict that put him out.

Raikkonen (pictured with team-mate Daniel Suarez) was treated with revery by many of his Cup competitors

Raikkonen (pictured with team-mate Daniel Suarez) was handled with revery by a lot of his Cup opponents

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

How he fared

Usually, Raikkonen confirmed completely no concern within the early phases of the race in moist circumstances. He ran as excessive as 14th early on earlier than pitting for slicks, with crew chief Darian Grubb making an attempt to nurse him to a window the place he may full the race on two stops – however he fell a couple of laps quick as his tyres wilted.

Nonetheless, this alternate technique meant he’d run with the hounds for the beginning of the second stage, restarting in tenth and gaining a spot from Chris Buescher immediately. He peaked in eighth, as Todd Gilliland broke an axle forward of him, earlier than Hendrick Motorsports pair Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson zoomed by – they’d find yourself preventing for the win.

In actuality, Raikkonen was by no means actually within the hunt on the entrance however his hopes of a possible top-20 end ended when Austin Dillon spun off on the Internal Loop quickly after the restart of the ultimate stage. Within the stack-up of vehicles that adopted, Loris Hezemans bumped into the again of Brad Keselowski and Raikkonen’s right-front nook clipped Hezemans’ rear-left. Uncontrolled, he speared left into the tyre wall after a collision that was painful in additional methods than one.

“There’s no plans for something after this. I wished to have enjoyable, to do in addition to we will. I feel it’s only a good problem, it’s a brand new expertise” Kimi Raikkonen

“I had a very good line there, however all people appeared to return [to] the left,” he defined. “Sadly, I had no time to react.

“The primary impression, someone hit the tyre or the wheel straight and the [steering] wheel spun. There’s something fallacious with the wrist, however that is the way it goes.”

Raikkonen clambered out, together with his delight and ambition most likely as dented as a lot because the automotive or his wrist.

What subsequent?

Raikkonen’s NASCAR cameo definitely demonstrated his need to compete – to “haul ass”, as Trackhouse group boss Justin Marks anticipated – that burned simply as vivid as the times when this author used to see him hammer round throughout his 2000 Components Renault UK season. And it was a match and trim Raikkonen who turned out too, with zero indicators of ‘after F1’ extra, however a usually inscrutable one too…

“There’s no plans for something after this,” he stated. “I wished to have enjoyable, to do in addition to we will. I feel it’s only a good problem, it’s a brand new expertise.”

Possibly he’s ticked it off, perhaps he desires extra – that’s one thing solely he is aware of: “We’ll see, I don’t know,” he shrugged when pressed.

Raikkonen fared strongly in the wet early phases of the race, but was never truly in contention at the sharp end

Raikkonen fared strongly within the moist early phases of the race, however was by no means really in competition on the sharp finish

Photograph by: Motorsport Images

For Trackhouse, that is completely a challenge that wishes to develop its horizons. Marks, one of many sharpest and most formidable guys within the NASCAR paddock, stated he desires Challenge 91 to incorporate “all the street programs through the season after which probably a number of the main occasions, just like the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, or one thing like that.

“I feel in some unspecified time in the future, you get so many races that it’s important to take a look at simply truly fielding a 3rd full-time automotive. However I feel for Challenge 91, it’s a six-to-eight race programme probably subsequent yr and past.”

So the door is open, and it’s now as much as Raikkonen to see if he’s up for it. On one hand he may not be fussed with all of the media consideration he received, though he definitely appeared to benefit from the respect his rivals gave to him.

After a journalist requested him why he would danger his effective popularity for anticipated NASCAR failure, he’d remarked in basic Raikkonen model: “I don’t see any danger… why not? What do I’ve to lose? If I do unhealthy in a NASCAR race or unhealthy in any race, I don’t care… I do it for myself. A great or unhealthy finish end result, it may occur even when I did 20 races. All of them may very well be unhealthy for a lot of completely different causes. I don’t see any damaging.

“It’s nice what Justin and the group is doing, giving an opportunity for all of us from Europe. It’s not as recognized… clearly over time, NASCAR is extra recognized there, however I’m positive there are a variety of drivers that wish to have an opportunity to attempt it. It’s not very simple, so perhaps it’ll open some doorways sooner or later for extra probabilities to try to get extra Europeans into the game.”

Even when Raikkonen doesn’t come again, it was nice to be reminded of his disdain for a daft query and to have him as a cheerleader for this challenge to widen the worldwide curiosity on this most insular of American motorsports.

Whether Raikkonen will return and become a regular fixture in NASCAR is unclear

Whether or not Raikkonen will return and develop into a daily fixture in NASCAR is unclear

Photograph by: Motorsport Images




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