Just when he thought he’d gotten out, they pulled him back in. Kimi Raikkonen will once again don his racing suit less than a year after retiring from Formula 1 in order to race in a NASCAR Cup Series event this year.
The seat will be offered to the Finnish driver by Project91, a program designed to offer international racing stars an opportunity to participate in NASCAR. Raikkonen, the first driver announced as part of the program, will drive the number 91 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in the NASCAR Cup Series race at the Watkins Glen International road course on August 21, 2022.
“Kimi Raikkonen is the driver I first had in mind when we created PROJECT91,” said Justin Marks, one of Project91’s founders. “Kimi is a world-renowned driver with a tremendous amount of talent and fan following. We have had long discussions, and like us, he is already hard at work preparing for Watkins Glen.”
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Kimi Raikkonen. Watkins Glen. PROJECT91.
The Iceman returns. pic.twitter.com/4SSrQPjynQ
— PROJECT91 (@THProject91) May 26, 2022
Raikkonen has never driven in the NASCAR Cup Series before but does have some experience with stock cars. He previously competed in Xfinity and Truck Series races at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2011.
“I wasn’t looking to race again, but Justin came to my home in Switzerland and convinced me how serious he was about putting together a topnotch program,” Raikkonen said in a release. “This will be fun, but it’s something I will take very seriously. I know how competitive the NASCAR Cup Series is and it will be a big challenge.”
Project91 is a program being run by Trackhouse Entertainment Group, a venture founded by former racecar driver Justin Marks and Grammy Award-winning performer Pitbull. Trackhouse Racing currently fields cars for Daniel Suárez (No. 99) and Ross Chastain (No. 1) in the Cup Series but its No. 91 car is being reserved for international racing stars as a way to open “the door for global champions while beginning the process of scaling into an internationally recognized racing brand,” Marks told the Associated Press.
Marks argued that the advances to the NexGen NASCAR have flattened the learning curve enough to allow international drivers from other series to take the wheel. The move could provide a way into the sport, whose driver lineup is primarily American, unlike Indycar, which attracts talent from all over the world.
The idea seems to be an attractive one to the existing NASCAR field, with Cup driver Ryan Blaney telling the AP that it will be great for the sport but cautioning that it will still be a big challenge for Raikkonen, also known as the Iceman, to adjust to driving a stock car.
“Yeah, the Iceman,” Blaney said. “I’m a big fan and enjoyed watching him growing up and racing F1. I think it’s a great idea.”