WHAT DOES RACING AT COTA MEAN TO YOU IN TERMS OF YOUR EXPERIENCE IN F1 AND NOW IN NASCAR?
Kimi Räikkönen: “First of all, I’m happy to be back with the team, PROJECT91, and at the track that I know. Obviously, a lot different to how it feels. It’s the same track but it feels a lot different in an F1 car to a NASCAR car. A lot of the corners are more kind of straights in F1 because of the downforce. It gets a bit trickier in a NASCAR car. It’s nice to be back and it’s a lovely place to be here in Texas. Let’s hope we can do well. We will try to improve from yesterday and today and see what we do in the race.”
COMPARED TO F1, HOW HAS THIS EXPERIENCE BEEN LIKE FOR YOU TO WORK WITH YOUR TEAMMATES ROSS (CHASTAIN) AND DANIEL (SUAREZ) IN TERMS OF GETTING THEIR INSIGHTS?
Kimi Räikkönen: “It’s different. In F1, it’s a lot of meetings and a lot of other stuff. Here, it’s a bit more relaxed. You kind of have the meetings, but it’s a different way. I don’t have the experience with the cars and all the details, so we had a meeting yesterday as a group, as a whole team, and it’s nice to listen and assess what they thought about the car and what they should do with the car. I think it sounds like everybody has similar difficulties with the cars here. The rear seems to be the tricky part in the highest bit but it’s good to have teammates and to hear what they’re saying and get some advice from them.”
HOW MUCH MORE COMFORTABLE DO YOU FEEL NOW THAN YOU DID AT (WATKINS) GLEN?
Kimi Räikkönen: “Obviously, a little bit. It was just a different track again, and I haven’t driven any racecars since last year, so it takes a while to get used to it again even though I know the car. The car has lost some downforce, so it makes it a bit more tail-happy. At least I know that most of the things how it goes. Is it going to get any better results? We’ll find out. But I know the track so that helps, but as I said before it’s a lot different track with a NASCAR car than an F1 car. I feel more ready for sure on that side now that I know how the race goes and how everything else goes.”
CAN YOU GIVE AN UPDATE ON PROJECT91 AND WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE FOR THIS YEAR?
Justin Marks: “I’m really happy with where PROJECT91 is right now. It’s resonating with people. We’ve got some great sponsors on the car this weekend. We’re going to definitely race this car multiple times this year. We’re not ready to make any of those announcements yet but people are taking notice. We’ve got some great sponsorships coming our way. It’ll be an exciting program we’ll be able to announce pretty soon.”
WHAT’S BEEN THE GREATER TRANSITION RACING IN NASCAR – KNOWING THE CARS OR KNOWING WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE MIDDLE OF A RACE?
Kimi Räikkönen: “I think it’s everything. Obviously, I have some experience on different cars and different categories. I did Rally, which is completely different to what I was used to doing in F1. NASCAR, again, it’s easy to think that they’re all kind of similar because you have a steering wheel and four tires, but it changes a lot. The racing is slightly different because in F1 with open wheels, if you touch somebody you usually lose a car or lose the wheel. You cannot really take that risk in F1 that much because you lose tiny parts of the car, and your car is suddenly a second slower than it should be. In NASCAR, you can have a bit more closer racing. Obviously, the rules are different. They’re more open here. I think it’s more of if you kind of behave, well they’ll behave a similar way against you the way I’ve understood. It makes it more exciting at the end of the races when people can be quite aggressive. Everything is different. How they run practices, how they run qualifying, it’s all kind of a learning curve. The car is obviously a lot more different to drive than any other car that I’ve driven before. I like it. It’s quite relaxed. It’s very warming kind of atmosphere. It’s good.”
“I had a good experience in the last one last year. It didn’t end up like we had wished, but when you have 40 other cars, things can go wrong.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL MEMORIES FROM YOUR LAST VICTORY HERE (AT CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS)?
Kimi Räikkönen: “Yeah, for sure. That was my last win and obviously, here, great memories. It was a long time coming and it was a nice race. It wasn’t an easy race, but we managed to win it. I have, for sure, good memories of that.”
COMING BACK TO AUSTIN AS A FIRST WIN AS A TEAM, HOW DOES IT FEEL COMING BACK TO YOUR FIRST CAREER WIN AS AN OWNER?
Justin Marks: “It definitely feels a little bit different than all of the race tracks we go to just because it was such a bit day for our company. You can’t help but drive in here and have a lot of memories from that great day. In that respect, Circuit of the Americas will always be something very special to our company. This weekend, it’s about trying to defend it. Everybody knows these cars a lot better now than they did this time last year, and the competition is tougher this time than it was last year. We’ve got three great drivers and great opportunities to have a good result on Sunday, so that’s what we’re focused on. But I would say Circuit of the Americas is always going to be a place that holds special meaning for our company, obviously.”
WE’VE KIND OF SEEN A REVIVAL OF RINGERS COMING BACK, YOU KIND OF STARTING IT WITH PROJECT91. TODAY’S FIELD IS A DIVERSE TALENT POOL. FROM AN OWNER’S STANDPOINT, DO YOU SEE A POTENTIAL OF A RINGER POSSIBLY COMPETING FOR A WIN AGAIN LIKE WE SAW IN THE 90’S, EARLY 2000’S?
Justin Marks: “Yeah, I certainly think it’s possible. I think because this type of racing is so unique, the car is so different - just the competition, the way the races are, pit road, and strategy. All that stuff is very unique that it’s probably going to be difficult for anybody to come in and do it their first try. But I think that if a program is built around a driver where they get multiple opportunities and they can learn that, like Kimi will be a lot stronger in this race than he was in Watkins Glen just because he’s done it once before and he knows what to expect and he will be better. I think if you get this talent in here and they can learn how to manage these races, and these races are really hard to win for someone who does this every single week for years, so I would say the talent is there. Once the experience matches up with it, I certainly think that’s a potential.”
YOU’VE BEEN AT THIS TRACK A NUMBER OF TIMES, WON HERE IN 2018. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT THIS TRACK, AND WHAT’S THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE THAT MAYBE YOU DIDN’T SEE IN F1 BUT THAT YOU SEE IT IN STOCK CAR?
Kimi Räikkönen: “I think generally the track is nice because at least in F1, and I’m sure in NASCAR, it creates good racing. There are places you can overtake, and especially in F1, you don’t get a lot of circuits you can have a good race. People can actually overtake without the DRS, and it feels more like a normal older-style F1 racing. So that’s how the track layout works for F1 quite well. As I said before, in F1, it’s not flat. Some of the first parts are almost flat, (turns) 17 and 18, those are pretty easy and flat for those cars. A lot of the corners that are tricky. Probably the most tricky corners for NASCAR, they’re not really for F1 cars because of the downforce. It makes a huge difference in the track. All of the bumps the track has in F1 you get away with a lot because, again, the downforce helps and you don’t really feel it but in a NASCAR car, the effect is quite big. It makes it a much more tricky track to drive and to get the car somewhat working as you wish. It’s a completely different track in many ways. It sounds stupid because it’s the same track, but the car makes it a lot different.”
SINCE TRACKHOUSE’S INCEPTION IN 2021, IS YOUR VISION GOING ACCORDING TO PLAN, AND WHAT’S LEFT ON THE TABLE?
Justin Marks: “It’s been tremendous. It’s been incredible. I’ve said it a number of times the plan was always to work really hard and try to build an organization to compete for wins and ultimately compete for a championship. We’ve proven that’s possible for us. We had such an incredible year in 2022 that the challenge shifts a little bit to really focusing on the things we have to focus on to make sure that that’s repeatable, and that we can do that every year, and that we’re continuing to learn these cars at the rate that all these other teams are learning and adapt to any kind of changes in the sport that are coming. That’s really what we need to focus on. But there’s a lot of people over here on this side of the room that’s really had a big role in Trackhouse being a thing and being a contender on the race track. We’ve got a lot of great partners. Our support from Chevrolet has really allowed us access to tools and knowledge that we need to be successful. We’ve got racecar drivers and great pit crews and people at Trackhouse. We’re doing exactly what we thought was possible. It’s been just a lot of fun. It’s been awesome. We’re always working on fun stuff.”
DID YOU EXPECT YOU’D COME BACK TO A NASCAR RACE IN TEXAS TO RACE AGAINST JENSON BUTTON AGAIN? CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW COOL IT IS, THE FIELD, THIS WEEKEND?
Kimi Räikkönen: “No, no. I didn’t. I’m not probably expected if I came back or not. It depends on so many things. I’m grateful for the team that we can have another go again, but then a lot of things. The family likes to come here, they really enjoyed last year. It’s a nice trip for all of us, but then there’s a lot of different moving parts that needs to fit – that the timing goes right, and this seems to be the right one. A lot of good drivers. The guys that do it all the time, they’re really fast not just on ovals but also on road courses, they’re good. They’re professional guys and they know how to drive these cars. It doesn’t matter if it’s a road course or an oval, they will always be fast. It’s hard to challenge them, but we will try again with our best and see what we get.”