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Formula 1’s Kimi Raikkonen leads international affair at Watkins Glen

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

When Justin Marks introduced Kimi Raikkonen as his driver for a brand new mission focusing on rising NASCAR’s international viewers, he had no thought simply how international the Watkins Glen race Sunday could be.

The 2007 Formula 1 champion from Finland headlines a listing of six drivers from international international locations who will compete Sunday, giving the Cup Series a report seven international locations represented in a Cup race.

“I believe he’s going to haul ass,” Marks mentioned of Raikkonen. “He’s very centered.”

Raikkonen, who competed in an Xfinity race and a truck race (each on ovals) in 2011, will likely be making his Cup debut together with German road-racing standout Mike Rockenfeller, who will drive for Spire Motorsports.

Three different international drivers have minimal Cup expertise: Live Fast Motorsports’ Kyle Tilley (born in England; 4 Cup begins and one Xfinity begin), Team Hezeberg’s Daniil Kvyat (Russia; one Cup begin) and Reaume Brothers’ Loris Hezemans (Holland; three Cup begins and 6 Xfinity begins). Kvyat is the largest identify, having pushed in Formula 1 from 2014 to ’20. Tilley has sports-car expertise, and Hezemans received the 2019 NASCAR Europe title.

“Everyone loves racing the place I’m from,” Kvyat mentioned at his debut final month in Indianapolis. “Everyone likes to drive quick. In Europe, it may possibly develop — the extra F1 drivers who come to NASCAR, the extra worldwide curiosity will develop.

“The racing right here could be very attention-grabbing, and I’m positive everybody will find it irresistible.”

Justin Marks on Kimi Raikkonen

Speaking final week about Kimi Raikkonen, crew proprietor Justin Marks mentioned he has excessive expectations primarily based on Raikkonen’s preparation.

One foreign-born driver is well-known to NASCAR followers: Daniel Suárez, who turned the primary Mexican driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race when he triumphed at Sonoma earlier this yr. He additionally turned the primary foreign-born driver to win a NASCAR nationwide sequence championship when he captured the 2016 Xfinity Series title.

Most of the highlight for the newcomers will likely be on Raikkonen, who’s racing as a part of Trackhouse’s Project 91, designed to deliver a driver of international notoriety into the Cup Series. The different drivers will likely be in vehicles which have hardly ever run close to the entrance of the sector this yr.

Raikkonen received 21 Formula 1 races in his profession. He completed fifteenth and twenty seventh in his truck and Xfinity begins. 

“It’s factor for our sport to get some good publicity,” Denny Hamlin mentioned. “But apart from that, I’m not likely positive that it adjustments the dynamic of the race an excessive amount of.”

Hamlin wasn’t saying that to be dismissive; it’s simply that racing in Cup is an adjustment. Plus, all of the Cup drivers have entry to knowledge and simulator time, which have helped them turn out to be significantly better highway racers than a decade in the past.

“These are two reverse worlds. The means the vehicles drive and the way it’s good to drive them, it’s like day and night time,” Kvyat mentioned at Indianapolis. “They’re each actually cool and nice enjoyable in numerous methods.

“The guys right here have executed it since they have been 7 years outdated. So I simply got here into utterly new territory.”

Denny Hamlin on Kimi Raikkonen driving for Trackhouse

Denny Hamlin says former Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen driving for Trackhouse at Watkins Glen is nice for publicity, however he doesn’t view Raikkonen as somebody who will change the race dynamic.

Raikkonen hasn’t been in a automobile for the reason that 2021 Formula 1 finale.

“It’s been enjoyable being within the automobile, not having pushed any race automobile for the reason that final F1 race,” Raikkonen mentioned following a check final week. “Hopefully we will get a considerably good end result.” 

NASCAR revised its testing rule earlier this yr to permit a driver with elite credentials from the highest ranges of motorsports to do an orientation check. The driver can’t check with the crew that may discipline the automobile for the race, however the Cup crew can have 4 representatives at the check.

Raikkonen and Rockenfeller each examined final week for a few hours in a automobile constructed by Action Express Racing, a sports-car racing crew that did some testing for NASCAR within the growth of the Next Gen automobile and is partially owned by NASCAR Chairman Jim France.

“It was good to get some laps, although it isn’t precisely the identical automobile we’re going to race,” Raikkonen mentioned. “But it was helpful simply to place some laps and have some enjoyable and know what the automobile is considerably doing.”

Suárez, who drives for Trackhouse, attended the check with Raikkonen and accompanied him to simulator classes. Raikkonen is understood for being stoic and never very loquacious in terms of media, however Suárez mentioned he was inquisitive and interesting at the check.

“He requested numerous questions,” he mentioned. “He was very open-minded. I actually thought he was going to be extra quiet. Lots of people know him as being very, very quiet and a ‘leave me alone’ sort of factor, however he’s not like that at all.

“He has been studying in a short time. I knew that he is aware of how you can drive. He is pure with that. But I used to be very curious to get to know him in additional of the mindset stage.”

Daniel Suárez on testing with Kimi Raikkonen

Daniel Suárez says Kimi Raikkonen requested a number of questions at the check final week forward of constructing his Cup debut Sunday at Watkins Glen.

The greatest problem for newcomers would be the intricacies of the NASCAR guidelines, in addition to the quantity of contact the vehicles could have with different vehicles all through the occasion.

Raikkonen has been watching races to find out about NASCAR technique.

“From a pace and preparation and data standpoint, he’s going to be proper on par,” Marks mentioned. “Where the problem goes to be is ensuring he understands the race from a procedural standpoint. … Penalties will take the entire day away from you. 

“That’s the place the heavy raise will likely be, and I believe that is the place we’ll be focusing numerous our consideration, ensuring that he is educated. But the way in which that he confirmed up, able to get fitted within the automobile — I’ve excessive expectations.”

Marks believes the Next Gen automobile is suited to international drivers as a result of the automobile’s design is extra like that of a sports activities automobile, which many drivers have raced at some level of their careers. That ought to make the transition a bit of simpler than with earlier NASCAR vehicles.

Cup drivers welcome seeing drivers of international acclaim within the discipline. They even have motive to be cautious of any driver who doesn’t have many Cup begins, as final fall, skilled road-racer Joey Hand by accident obtained into Martin Truex Jr. at the Charlotte highway course, practically costing Truex a spot within the playoff semifinal spherical.

Chris Buescher on the international drivers at Watkins Glen

Some of the international drivers racing Sunday at Watkins Glen have little or no Cup expertise. But, in accordance with Chris Buescher, “It feels incorrect to place rookie stripes on among the names which can be on that entry listing.”

“There’s just a bit little bit of hesitancy once you get round vehicles that you just don’t know,” Chris Buescher mentioned. “Part-time drivers in our sport, they often come round sufficient that we all know who they’re and what they’re like.

“That makes it a bit of bit completely different after we head right into a race like this, the place we’ve obtained first-timers. But at the identical time, it feels incorrect to place rookie stripes on among the names.”

The lack of awareness will work each methods and will likely be a problem for Raikkonen and the others.

“He would not know all these drivers,” Suárez mentioned of Raikkonen. “He would not understand how they race. He would not understand how aggressive they’re, in order that half goes to take a bit of bit.

“You can deliver the most effective driver on the planet, and it’s going to take a while within the racing half.”

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What to look at for

After the frustration of Indianapolis, don’t count on numerous give-and-take from some drivers at Watkins Glen. And let’s be clear: Road-course racing is about give-and-take.

The query is how a lot to provide? Drivers who have to win (and Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. when speaking about factors) received’t be concerned about a lot giving. They’ll wish to do as a lot taking as attainable.

Any driver who felt wronged at Indy (and there have been loads of them) additionally received’t be concerned about doing a lot giving. They already really feel they misplaced too many spots a couple of weeks in the past.

Watch with the adage of “I’ll race you the way in which you raced me” in thoughts every time drivers are side-by-side or a driver wants a break to carry his place or get again within the racing groove. Those who attempt to squeeze their means in or use the bumper an excessive amount of can count on that in return.

Thinking out loud

It’s Watkins Glen week, and meaning a reboot of speaking concerning the boot, a one-mile part of the course that NASCAR doesn’t use however different types of racing do use.

For many years, some followers have advocated for including the sections, pondering it might make the race extra thrilling. But NASCAR has hesitated. Lengthening the course by a mile would imply fewer laps — and that might imply fewer occasions followers see the vehicles. Plus, the boot has tight turns, which has sparked debate about whether or not Cup vehicles might cross in these sections or it might be follow-the-leader.

As NASCAR realized when it added a piece to Sonoma Raceway for a few years, change isn’t all the time factor. NASCAR has good racing at Watkins Glen. There’s no motive to vary it.

Social highlight

They mentioned it

“I don’t assume it’s lifelike to attempt to change my identify at this level. … I’ve been making an attempt actually exhausting for most likely shut to fifteen years, between ARCA and NASCAR racing, to get my identify accurately pronounced as ‘Bush-err.’ And that is been lengthy sufficient simply making an attempt to determine that one out.” — Chris Buescher

Bob Pockrass has spent many years protecting motorsports, together with the previous 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene journal and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!

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