Iceman on new track

Iceman on new track

Motor sport

eager explorer: Finnish ace Kimi Raikkonen says he is driven by the urge to try out different things in life. With Kimi Raikkonen’s debut last week in a Camping World Truck Series race, the trickle of drivers from Formula One to NASCAR has now become a trend.

Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion from Finland who left Formula One after the 2009 season, is the latest to make his way to NASCAR in recent years, behind Juan Pablo Montoya, Nelson Piquet Jr and Scott Speed.

But count Raikkonen, 31, who is the most successful Formula One driver to make the move, with 18 career victories and one championship, among the more intriguing additions to stock-car racing. It is too early to say if the driver called the Iceman for his demeanor on and off the track will stick around for long, though.

“Since I stopped in Formula One, my interests have always been in many different motorsports,” said Raikkonen, who also competes in the World Rally Championship. “I want to try different things.”

“I was interested to see how it is,” he said before Friday’s race, “and how it feels and how it is racing in NASCAR.”

He found out that night. Raikkonen was an impressive 15th in a 36-car field in the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He scraped the wall twice but managed to finish on the lead lap while many drivers struggled to maintain control on tires that made racing difficult even for stock-car veterans. Raikkonen seemed relatively pleased, although he would have liked to finish higher.

“Actually, it was more fun than I expected,” he said.

Raikkonen would not reveal his plans, but Kyle Busch, the winner of the race and the team owner who supplied Raikkonen with a truck for the race, confirmed that he has a Class AAA-level Nationwide Series racecar in his shop for the next event at Charlotte. Raikkonen is expected to drive it.

Raikkonen said he would like to try some Sprint Cup races as well. NASCAR’s two road-course events might be a natural fit.

Montoya, Raikkonen’s former teammate at McLaren, believes his transition to NASCAR has helped pave the way for others. Montoya began competing in the Cup series in 2007 and has two road-course victories, including last year at Watkins Glen.

“I think when I came here, that showed that you could do it, and that it’s a really cool sport and people want to be a part of it,” Montoya said. Of course, Formula One veterans have been gravitating to NASCAR for years, including the 1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve, who competed in Formula One from 1996 to 2006 and has raced in a handful of NASCAR events the last five years. Speed, who raced in Formula One in 2006-7, ran a full Cup schedule in 2009-10. Piquet raced in Formula One in 2008-9 and is now a rookie in the Camping World Truck Series. He finished 21st.

“You could take the view the drivers are mercenaries – they go where the money is,” said Steve Hallam, executive vice president and director of competition at Michael Waltrip Racing and a 27-year veteran of Formula One who worked with Raikkonen at McLaren.
“And then you have drivers that say, I’d like to try that because I’ve seen it and it’s interesting and I don’t understand it fully, I’d like to get involved with it and work on it,” Hallam said. “And for someone like Kimi, that works for him.”

NASCAR welcomes the additions. Anything that spreads the gospel of stock-car racing.
“I think it shows you the level of competition that the best drivers in the world want to be a part of,” Brian France, NASCAR’s chairman, said. “I think it’s great.”

Raikkonen hedged when asked about his future plans, and he did not rule out a return to Formula One. But at least one Formula One expatriate says NASCAR would be a good fit for Raikkonen, both on the track and off.

“He’s an easygoing guy,” Piquet, a Brazilian, said. “He likes having fun, and I think this would fit in very well.”