The 2007 Formula 1 world champion will drive for Trackhouse in the road course race Aug. 21 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International as a teammate to Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain.
The Finn’s appearance is part of Trackhouse’s Project 91 initiative which is looking to expand NASCAR’s reach by introducing talented international racing drivers to the Cup Series.
“I think that the speed and the race craft and the adaptation to the car are not going to be an issue at all,” Marks said. “The way he was prepared when he first showed up in America – not just the last 24 hours – he was asking about the No. 1 car’s pit penalty at Michigan, he had questions about short-pitting stages and how to work strategy backwards on road courses.
“He has really done a lot of work and preparation and that’s not surprising to me. That’s what it takes to be as successful as he’s been in Formula 1 for so long.”
The race at The Glen marks Raikkonen’s first outing in a motorsport event since he retired from F1 last December with his final appearance for Alfa Romeo at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
To prepare for next weekend’s race, Raikkonen has brought his entire family to the United States for several weeks.
During that time he’s done simulator work, driven in iRacing events, participated in pit stop practice at the shop and on Thursday took part in his “Select Driver Orientation Test” at Virginia International Raceway in a Next Gen car.
Raikkonen, 42, has also undertaken a lot individual study – all of which leaves Marks convinced he should be up to speed come next weekend.
“From a speed and a preparation and knowledge standpoint, I think he’s going to be right on par,” Marks explained. “Where the challenge will be is making sure that he understands the race from a procedural standpoint, that he understands the rules.
“We’ve prepared a document for him that shows point-of-view imagery of where pit entrance is and where the pit light is, where the (timing) lines are and all that kind of stuff. That’s where he’s got the steepest learning curve is not driving through too many pit boxes, not pitting too early, not pulling out of line before the start/finish line at the start, not speeding on pit road.
“A penalty can take a whole day away from you. That’s where the heavy lift will be and that’s where we’re focusing a lot of our attention. From the way he showed up ready to be fitted in the car, I have high expectations.
“I think he’s going to haul ass.”
Photo by: Project91
Marks, who co-owns Trackhouse with Grammy award-winning rapper Pitbull, believes the Next Gen car has helped lower the barrier of entry for drivers interested in competing in the Cup Series.
“I’ve known for a long time there is significant global interest among the elite motorsports drivers of the world in participating in a NASCAR race,” Marks said. “It’s a unique series. People around Europe and around the world look at NASCAR as this giant form of motorsports in America and have an interest in trying that.
“But it’s been hard to break through and it’s been hard to be successful because the car (until now) has required such a unique and proprietary style of driving so the barrier has essentially been high.”
Marks said to begin the Project 91 initiative they would need someone “relevant globally” to kick it off and felt the timing was right for Raikkonen.
“Here’s a guy that races full-time in F1 for basically 20 years, he’s been to America and run NASCAR races before so I knew the interest was there and we had great mutual friends so there was immediate trust,” Marks said.
“I think he thought about it and there was some unfinished business back in 2011 when he raced before. The whole idea was to do a Cup race and he never got the opportunity. I would say the stars aligned pretty well.”
Raikkonen entered one Xfinity Series race and one Truck Series race in 2011 with Kyle Busch Motorsports during his sabbatical from F1.
He has also tested a Cup car at VIR before, driving a Dodge for Robby Gordon Motorsports in 2011, but the test ended early when he went off and tore up the nose on wet grass.
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