Next week’s NASCAR Cup Series race on the Watkins Glen International Road Course will feature former Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen’s first foray into Trackhouse Racing’s PROJECT91 program announced in May by team founder and owner Justin Marks. PROJECT91’s intent is to expand Trackhouse Racing’s international reach by fielding a NASCAR Cup Series entry for renowned international racing drivers.
Raikkonen is the first driver to undertake this endeavor; to prepare for his first Cup Series race in the new Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro, the Finn, after getting fit for the seat at the shop on Tuesday, spent a day lapping at VIRginia International Raceway (VIR) this week and also performed pit stop practice at the team’s race shop on Thursday. His test is allowed under NASCAR testing guidelines that were updated in June, essentially to accommodate Raikkonen and the PROJECT91 program.
Raikkonen, known for being monosyllabic, did have a few things to say about his initial experience in this No. 91 Chevy. “It was nice to get some laps,” he said, “even if it’s not exactly the same car I’m going to race, but it was beneficial to put laps [in] and have some fun – and know what the car is somewhat doing.” Raikkonen last experienced NASCAR’s Cup Series cars in 2011 and the Next Gen Chevy is very different, and “nicer,” he noted. Raikkonen did try the simulator before he got on track at VIR, so he had some idea of what to expect.
“When the tires get hot you start sliding more, but that’s normal.” Having the 50 or so laps on Thursday and the simulator runs beforehand, the driver feels better prepared for the 20 minutes of practice he’ll be getting next week at Watkins Glen before qualifying and the Sunday, August 21 race. He lauded the Trackhouse team for its preparation and thanked NASCAR for giving him the opportunity to test in advance of the race, even though VIR is a very different animal from Watkins Glen.
“It was nice to be in a car. I haven’t been in a car since the last  F1 race so it was fun for me,” to get out the rust of not driving since last November. At VIR, Raikkonen was testing one of the original Next Gen prototypes, not the car he’ll be driving at Watkins Glen.
Trackhouse Racing fields two NASCAR Cup Series cars, the No. 99 for Daniel Suarez and the No. 1 with Ross Chastain. Between them, the duo have recorded three victories thus far in the 2022 “regular season” campaign. Suarez took a victory lap at Sonoma Raceway that qualified him for the playoffs while Chasten owns two wins, at Circuit of the Americas and Talladega Superspeedway; he, too is qualified for the 16-driver playoffs. The fact that this team has excelled, thus far, on two road courses bodes well for Raikkonen’s debut with Trackhouse Racing’s PROJECT91 next week on the Watkins Glen road course.