Will Kimi Raikkonen’s urge for food have been sufficiently whetted by his first style of the NASCAR Cup Collection to come back again for extra? That is the million greenback query.
Through the years, this author has coated ex-Method 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 properly 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 unquestionably a robust motivator in every case, as is a discount of earnings (albeit let’s assume they not precisely dwelling 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 really like 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 degree then that tooth-and-claw battle is a troublesome one to stroll away from fully.
When NASCAR Cup Collection 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 Vans and Xfinity earlier than, and he should be losing interest now,” I wrote. And lo, it got here to go.
Previous to Watkins Glen on Sunday, Raikkonen hadn’t began a motor race because the 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 automobile hadn’t pushed a racing automobile 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 Collection begins throughout his hiatus from F1 in 2011, it appeared a superb match each for Raikkonen and Challenge 91’s ambitions.
Raikkonen acquired again into the minimize and thrust of racing in an unfamiliar atmosphere in opposition to an all-new forged of rivals at Watkins Glen
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“It’s lots completely different than after I was right here the final time,” mentioned Raikkonen, reflecting on his toe-dipping NASCAR races on the Charlotte oval. “It’s very relaxed.
“The schedule is lots completely different than it was final time. What occurred to many sports activities after COVID was that they found out that we actually don’t have to spend as many days over the weekend on the observe. Clearly, in hindsight, it might be higher for me if we had extra apply, 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 total younger households round them, in NASCAR it’s the norm to have their companions and children on the pit stand if they want – or hanging out in large motorhomes that always have a playground close by to maintain the small ones entertained.
Sometimes, Raikkonen confirmed completely no worry within the early phases of the race in moist situations. 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 mentioned. “It’s all the time thrilling while you race in opposition to individuals that you just haven’t raced in opposition to earlier than.
“[In NASCAR] they’re very skilled. The principles are barely completely different than what I’m used to, however I’m pleased to be right here and meet the blokes. I keep in mind from the final time – they’re very relaxed, easy-going and it’s straightforward 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 go 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 mentioned. “It’s a fantastic place and a pleasant space. It kind of seems like the center of nowhere, however I get pleasure from that. It’s good to be right here.”
Raikkonen loved bringing his household with him to the observe, with the NASCAR paddock “much more of a household ambiance” in comparison with F1
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Why it was by no means going to be straightforward
Whereas the DTM, World Endurance Championship or perhaps a return to the World Rally Championship may need been simpler for him, Raikkonen went for an virtually fully 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.
Because of NASCAR’s testing guidelines, he didn’t get days of pounding round a take a look at observe as for example Mansell had throughout his 1998 BTCC cameo. West Surrey Racing boss Dick Bennetts tells a fantastic yarn about bringing a top-end catering unit to a personal 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 mentioned, 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 acquired a few hours in a Subsequent Gen take a look at automobile on the VIR street course – satirically the place he as soon as tore up one in all Robby Gordon’s Dodge Cup vehicles in 2011 – and a few periods in Chevrolet’s NASCAR simulator. The primary time he really drove his #91 Trackhouse Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was a 20-minute apply session (twice interrupted by crimson flags) straight earlier than qualifying on Saturday, which he properly handled like a race run.
He certified 27th, which Raikkonen was fairly content material with as a result of his lack of observe time. Fleeting moments of sheer brilliance, coupled with an understanding of simply how tough and specialised the collection is, is fully frequent from my expertise of masking 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 acquired going after a considerable rain delay), with divergent methods, some improbable wheel-to-wheel racing and a usually hard-fought end.
It’s a credit score to Raikkonen to only how properly he was obtained by the NASCAR paddock. Martin Brundle tells an epic story in regards to the Worldwide Race of Champions collection, a one-make inventory automobile collection that ran in America within the late 1980s and ’90s, by which he excelled. He was getting set for the Michigan superspeedway finale, sat by his automobile, when Dale Earnhardt Sr paid a go to and gave a couple of sage phrases of recommendation: “Don’t overlook your children”.
Distinction that with Ryan Blaney asking which seat Raikkonen had taken in a earlier press convention – simply so he might sit there – which demonstrated the reverence by 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 handled with revery by lots of his Cup opponents
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How he fared
Sometimes, Raikkonen confirmed completely no worry within the early phases of the race in moist situations. He ran as excessive as 14th early on earlier than pitting for slicks, with crew chief Darian Grubb attempting to nurse him to a window the place he might 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 Inside 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 are able to. I feel it’s only a good problem, it’s a brand new expertise” Kimi Raikkonen
“I had a superb line there, however all people appeared to come back [to] the left,” he defined. “Sadly, I had no time to react.
“The primary impression, any individual hit the tyre or the wheel instantly and the [steering] wheel spun. There’s something mistaken with the wrist, however that is the way it goes.”
Raikkonen clambered out, together with his delight and ambition in all probability as dented as a lot because the automobile or his wrist.
Raikkonen’s NASCAR cameo definitely demonstrated his need to compete – to “haul ass”, as Trackhouse workforce boss Justin Marks anticipated – that burned simply as shiny as the times when this author used to see him hammer round throughout his 2000 Method 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 mentioned. “I wished to have enjoyable, to do in addition to we are able to. I feel it’s only a good problem, it’s a brand new expertise.”
Possibly he’s ticked it off, possibly 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 within the moist early phases of the race, however was by no means really in rivalry on the sharp finish
Picture by: Motorsport Images
For Trackhouse, that is completely a mission that desires to develop its horizons. Marks, one of many sharpest and most bold guys within the NASCAR paddock, mentioned he desires Challenge 91 to incorporate “the entire street programs throughout the season after which doubtlessly a few 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 have a look at simply really fielding a 3rd full-time automobile. However I feel for Challenge 91, it’s a six-to-eight race programme doubtlessly subsequent 12 months 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 acquired, though he definitely appeared to benefit from the respect his rivals gave to him.
After a journalist requested him why he would danger his wonderful fame for anticipated NASCAR failure, he’d remarked in basic Raikkonen type: “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 superb or unhealthy finish outcome, it might occur even when I did 20 races. All of them could possibly be unhealthy for a lot of completely different causes. I don’t see any unfavourable.
“It’s nice what Justin and the workforce 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 number of drivers that wish to have an opportunity to attempt it. It’s not very straightforward, so possibly it is going to open some doorways sooner or later for extra possibilities to attempt 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 mission to widen the worldwide curiosity on this most insular of American motorsports.
Whether or not Raikkonen will return and turn into an everyday fixture in NASCAR is unclear
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