Kimi Raikkonen logs laps in Next Gen car ahead of Cup Series debut

Kimi Raikkonen looks on at his test car in the Trackhouse shop (Photo from Trackhouse Racing media)

Kimi Raikkonen headed to Virginia International Raceway on Thursday with the Trackhouse team to turn laps in NASCAR’s Next Gen car ahead of his Cup Series debut at Watkins Glen. The Formula One World Champion, who will drive a third entry for the Pitbull-backed team, also practiced pit stops at the Trackhouse shop.

Raikkonen is the first driver to race for the PROJECT91 program, designed to attract renowned international drivers to race in NASCAR, but it’s not his first time in the sport. In 2011, he made three starts in the Truck and Xfinity Series.

However, the Next Gen car is definitely different, he commented. “This car is obviously a new generation car, so it was a lot nicer,” said Raikkonen. “More or less what I expected: I tried the simulator so I had some idea. So far it’s pretty good.”

“We did maybe 50 laps today,” Raikkonen said, and added: “Without those and the simulator, going into twenty minutes of practice and then qualifying would be a lot harder. We prepared as well as we could, so thanks to NASCAR letting us have those few laps today. We’ve done the best that we could, the most that we can.”

Still, he’s never turned laps of the New York road course where he’ll be making his debut. However, he said that the laps he turned at VIR help him “know what the car is doing,” which makes it “a bit easier to go and practice come race day” at the track.

And team owner Justin Marks is confident in his driver. “From a speed and preparation and knowledge standpoint, I think he’s going to be right on par,” Marks said. “I think where the challenge is going to be is making sure he understands the race from a procedural standpoint—that he understands the rules and all that.”

Overall, though, Kimi says “it’s been fun” just to get back up to speed. “I haven’t been in a racecar since the last F1 race,” he admitted.

Owen Johnson