The Glen Is A Major PROJECT For F1 Champ Raikkonen

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 20 2022

Former F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen is at Wakins Glen this weekend racing a NASCAR Cup car for Justin Marks’ team. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – For 20 years, Watkins Glen International hosted the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix, but that was long before Kimi Raikkonen claimed his 2007 championship and it wasn’t a factor in Justin Marks’ decision to unveil his PROJECT91 with the Finland native at the historic road course.

Instead, Marks pointed to the time needed to get the No. 91 Chevrolet team ready and to match Raikkonen’s schedule. He also didn’t want the team to make its debut in the NASCAR Cup playoffs.

“There were a lot of factors that went into it that just made this the ideal place,” Marks said.

“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 ‘micky, mousey’ like Indy did and some of these other events.”

 Nicknamed “The Iceman” because of his demeanor, Raikkonen leads in Formula One starts with 349. He possesses 21 victories, 103 podiums and 18 poles. In May 2011, he dipped his toe into the NASCAR waters with a 15th-place finish in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and a 27th in a Xfinity event, both at Charlotte Motor Speedway. When Marks contacted him about the PROJECT91 ride for Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen, he agreed to it because “what do I have to lose?”

“If I do bad in a NASCAR race or bad in any race, I don’t care,” Raikkonen calmly said. “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.”

Raikkonen is a member of the most international field ever for a NASCAR Cup race. Seven countries – United States, Mexico, Finland, Germany, Russia, England, and the Netherlands – are represented in Sunday’s event on the 2.450-mile road course.

Raikkonen and Daniil Kvyat raced against each other in F1; however, Raikkonen is facing most of the competitors for the first time. It’s something that might not have happened without Marks’ program which is designed to expand Trackhouse’s international reach by fielding a NASCAR Cup car for renowned international drivers.

Marks said Saturday that Raikkonen’s entry at The Glen would be the only one this year; however, PROJECT91 could expand to six to eight races in 2023. 

“The road courses are kind of the ideal places to bring guys like Kimi … just because of the experience on the road courses,” Marks said. “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.”

Marks also noted that PROJECT91 was 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,” Marks said. “That’s sort of where I’d like to see it go.” 

Raikkonen said he doesn’t see anything negative about Marks’ program.

“I think it’s great what Justin (Marks) and the team is doing giving a chance for all of us from Europe,” Raikkonen said Saturday before qualifying 27th. “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.”

Raikkonen’s family traveled with him to the United States, and they spent the weekend in the drivers’ motor coach lot. He hadn’t visited Seneca Lodge where the victory wreaths from F1s glory days at The Glen hang behind the bar, a symbol of past celebrations. However, he admitted he liked the relaxed environment surrounding the NASCAR weekend.

“It’s a lot more of a family atmosphere here than in F1, so I like it,” Raikkonen said. 

“It’s a lot different than when I was here the 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.” 

The Go Bowling at The Glen is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. Sunday on the USA Network.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 20 2022
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