KIMI, COMING BACK TO NASCAR AFTER 11 YEARS, WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST FACTOR THAT BROUGHT YOU TO THIS OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE A NASCAR CUP SERIES START?
KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN: “Justin (Marks) contacted me last year at some point and then we kind of left it alone for a while. Then we had another discussion and then met with us in Switzerland. I think everything worked out well. It made to sense. The timing was right.. the kids are still on holiday from school, so we could come as a family for the trip. I think all of the small things here and there worked out; and obviously, seeing that Trackhouse Racing has been good this year and winning races, we should have a chance to do OK. If we do or not, I don’t know, but at least we’ll try and give it our best.”
WHAT WERE YOUR TAKEAWAYS FROM GETTING TO DO THE DRIVER ORIENTATION TEST LAST WEEK?
KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN: “I’ve been to the track once when I was here last time. I think it was good to get some laps to have some idea of how the cars are. Obviously, the Cup cars are quite a bit different than it used to be at that time. It wasn’t the same car that I’m going to race here, but for sure it’s helpful to get some kind of an idea of how things work.”
WHY DO THIS? IS IT TO JUST SAY YOU’VE RACED A CUP CAR? IS IT JUST PURE FUN? ARE YOU LOOKING TO DO MORE AFTER THIS?
KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN: “There’s no plans for anything after this. Obviously, I want to have fun, but also do as well as we can. As I said, I think we’ve prepared as well as we could with how the rules are.. not just here in NASCAR, but where I come from. The testing is obviously a tricky part and if you haven’t done it, you don’t get many laps. But at least we did some and NASCAR gave us a little chance to try the car. We’ll see what comes out of it.
But there’s no plans for the future. I want to have fun, but also do as well as we can”
THE RESTARTS IN NASCAR TEND TO HAVE A LOT OF CONTACT.. I’M SURE THEY’VE TOLD YOU THERE WILL BE A LOT OF CONTACT. ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THAT OR ARE YOU APPREHENSIVE ON JUST HOW MUCH CONTACT YOU SHOULD HAVE AND HOW MUCH YOU SHOULD ACCEPT?
KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN: “I think any form of motorsports has contact. Obviously when you have single-seater cars, you try to avoid it more because if you damage the wing, your race is compromised. In stock car racing, it’s a bit more forgiving because it doesn’t effect it much. We’ll try to stay out of any issues.. that’s the big key in any racing. There might be some or there might not, but it’s a part of racing.”
WHAT ARE YOU MOST INTRIGUED ABOUT WITH THIS WEEKEND?
KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN: “It’s a new experience. I don’t know how it’s going to go, but I think it’s just a nice challenge. Like we said already, we’ve had limited running of the car and we’ll have a very short practice here, so that will be tricky. It’ll be quite a challenge, but it’s also exciting. We’ll see where we stack up. There are very fast guys here that have been doing this for years, so it will be very hard. But we’ll see what we can do.”
AT THE END OF THE DAY, WHY DOES A WORLD CHAMPION DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS.. WHERE EVEN WITH THE TESTING, YOU’VE HAD LIMITED TIME IN THE CAR AND YOU’LL HAVE LIMITED TIME ON THE TRACK, SO IT DOES NOT GIVE YOU AS GOOD OF AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHOWCASE EVERYTHING THAT YOU CAN DO. WHY TAKE THAT RISK, IN ONE SENSE, FAILURE?
KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN: “I don’t see any risk.. why not? What do I have to lose? If I do bad in a NASCAR race or bad in any race, I don’t care.. I do it for myself. A good or bad end result, it could happen even if I did 20 races. They all could be bad for many different reasons.
I don’t see any negative. I think it’s great what Justin (Marks) and the team is doing giving a chance for all of us from Europe. It’s not as known.. obviously over the years, NASCAR is more known there, but I’m sure there are a lot of drivers that would like to have a chance to try it. It’s not very easy, so maybe it will open some doors in the future for more chances to try and get more Europeans into the sport.”
IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE STAYING IN THE MOTORHOME LOT WITH YOUR FAMILY. WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT THE NASCAR CULTURE AND THE VIBE IN THAT SENSE COMPARED TO F1?
KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN: “It’s a lot different than when I was here the last time. I like it.. it’s very relaxed and completely different. I think the schedule is a lot different than it was last time. What happened to many sports after COVID was that they figured out that we really don’t need to spend as many days over the weekend at the track. Obviously, in hindsight, it would be better for me if we had more practice, but that’s how it is.
I really like it. It’s very relaxed.. a nice, family atmosphere. It’s a lot more of a family atmosphere here than in F1, so I like it. So far, it’s been great.”
JUSTIN, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE OVERALL PATH AND THE FUTURE OF PROJECT91 AND WHAT WE CAN SEE WITH THE PROGRAM MOVING FORWARD? ARE THERE ANY PLANS FOR THE REST OF THIS YEAR OR NEXT YEAR?
JUSTIN MARKS: “This is the only event for PROJECT91 this year. This is really our opportunity to sort of build this program; see how it impacts the operations of the company to field a part-time third car. I’ve been telling people; we haven’t hired one person for this project. There’s just been a lot of people at Trackhouse that have been doing time-and-a-half to get this to go. This is really just about what it looks like to field a part-time third car, as far as on the operations of the company, moving forward. This will be on the only event this year.
The road courses are kind of the ideal places to bring guys like Kimi in.. just because of the experience on the road courses. I think it’s a quicker learning curve and they can get up to speed a lot more quickly than to go to ovals.
So with that being said; ultimately PROJECT91 is a program that operates at all of the road courses during the season and then potentially some of the major events, like the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, or something like that. I think at some point, you get so many races that you have to look at just actually fielding a third full-time car. But I think for PROJECT 91, it’s a six to eight race program potentially next year and beyond. It’s a brand extension of Trackhouse. I think we can get really unique on the content side, on the merchandise side and just create great stories. That’s sort of where I’d like to see it go.”
WATKINS GLEN WAS THE SITE OF THE US GRAND PRIX FOR FORMULA 1 FROM 1961 TO 1980. IF YOU GO DOWN TO SENECA LODGE, YOU CAN STILL SEE THE VICTORY WREATHS FROM THAT F1 ERA. KIMI, SINCE YOU HAVE YOUR FAMILY WITH YOU, HAVE YOU LOOKED AT ANY OF THAT HISTORY THAT EXISTED HERE WITH FORMULA 1? JUSTIN, BECAUSE OF THAT HISTORY HERE, DID THAT ENTER INTO YOUR DECISION OF HAVING KIMI HERE TO MAKE HIS CUP DEBUT WITH PROJECT91?
KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN: “We came here yesterday. Obviously I know a little bit of the history of F1 being here and have seen some old videos from it. But from that, I haven’t really seen much yet. The kids are interested in doing other things.. they’re a bit too young for that. But I certainly know the history. It’s a great place and a nice area. It sort of feels like the middle of nowhere, but I enjoy that. It’s good to be here.”
JUSTIN MARKS: “As far as Watkins Glen, there were a couple of factors that went into this one. We needed time to be able to get this team ready and it needed to match up with Kimi’s schedule. I think, more than anything, it was convenient for him and his family to be able to make this trip and Watkins Glen fell in a good time for them. I didn’t want to debut PROJECT91 in the playoffs. That was not interesting to me.
And then as far as Watkins Glen; this is a track where obviously there’s a lot of history. The fan base is huge. It’s a great event for the sport, so there’s already typically a spotlight on it just because of the history and the quality of the races. It’s a track where I think if he starts to learn the race car in the race and we have a good race going, that you can make passes and you can create a good event. This event typically doesn’t get “mickey, mousey” like Indy did and some of these other events.
I think there were a lot of factors that went into it that just made this the ideal place.”
KIMI, WHEN YOU TESTED LAST WEEK AT VIR, DANIEL (SUAREZ) WAS THERE WITH YOU. WHAT’S IT BEEN LIKE TO HAVE THAT SUPPORT SYSTEM BETWEEN DANIEL AND ROSS (CHASTAIN) TO LEARN AND ADAPT TO THE NEXT GEN CAR?
KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN: “Obviously, it’s useful. Any help is good with limited time in the car. They have a lot more experience. When we ran the simulator, they were both there, so it was good to see what they do and how it goes.
Yeah, it’s been nice. Daniel (Suarez) has spent his free time to help, so I really appreciate that. I’m happy that they’ve been very open to go to if I have questions and try to help.”
JUSTIN, WHAT ARE YOUR REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS OF THIS RACE? DO YOU THINK PROJECT91 WOULD HAVE EVER BEEN POSSIBLE WITH THE OLD CAR VERSUS NOW DOING IT DURING THE FIRST YEAR OF THE NEXT GEN CAR?
JUSTIN MARKS: “I definitely think it was possible. But I think what this car represents is a lower barrier of entry for drivers from other disciplines because this car is much more consistent with other road racing cars globally. So the transition to learn the car for someone like Kimi is just a lot more simple.
And for expectations; the speed is going to be there, the preparation is going to be there, the fitness is going to be there, all of that. I think where the heavy lift is just understanding procedurally how the race goes; making sure there’s no drama in the pits, on the restarts and things like that. I think anything is possible.. I really do believe anything is possible. We have to run a good strategy and get a little bit lucky. But what he has shown at the test, what he has shown in the simulator and some of the other things that we’ve done; I don’t have any issues with the pace, preparation or anything like that. I think it’s going to be right on par. So if we do a good job for him as a team, I think that we can have a very good day.”
KIMI, A LOT OF THE DRIVERS RECENTLY HAVE VOICED THEIR EXCITEMENT OF RACING AND MEETING YOU. ARE THERE ANY DRIVERS IN NASCAR THAT YOU FEEL THE SAME ABOUT, EITHER MEETING OR RACING?
KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN: “I think, generally, it’s just nice to race whoever it’s going to be. It’s always exciting when you race against people that you haven’t raced against before. They’re very professional. The rules are slightly different than what I’m used to, but I’m happy to be here and meet the guys. I remember from the last time; they’re very relaxed, easy-going and it’s easy to talk to other drivers. It’s a bit different than what I’m used to from where I come from.”