Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 F1 world champion and current World Rally Championship competitor, is reported to be looking at moving to NASCAR later this year with a brand new team.
The Finnish Turun Sanomat
newspaper quotes Raikkonen as saying "I am excited about getting to know the world of NASCAR. I have been following it for a long time.
"I am 100 per cent sure it will be fun and challenging," the 31-year-old is reported as having told the newspaper. "I know, it's a very tough and open top-racing series. I just love the American spirit of racing. It feels just great to get involved with that. Obviously, it will be very challenging and great fun for me."
According to the reports, Raikkonen would debut in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in a new team to be called ICE1, inspired by Raikkonen's own nickname of "the Iceman". The team would be set up by Raikkonen in partnership with Foster Gillett, who worked with Richard Petty Motorsports (previously known as Gillett Evernham Motorsports) up until last year. RPM may be involved in supplying technical support to the team, although negotiations are still said to be pending with a number of prospective partners and no details or dates have been confirmed.
If the Truck venture were a success, it's said that Raikkonen would then look at moving into the Nationwide Series and ultimately into the top Sprint Cup Series. Raikkonen's involvement as a former F1 world champion would certainly generate an increase in international interest in NASCAR if it were to happen.
It appears that Raikkonen would continue his part-time eight-race WRC schedule in 2011, fitting in competing in the Truck series as WRC events allowed. He moved to WRC after failing to get a top F1 seat following his exit from Ferrari
at the end of 2009, and is currently running a Citroën DS3 WRC car under the existing banner there of ICE1 Racing. Raikkonen enjoyed a steady rookie year in WRC in 2010 but his best result was fifth place in Turkey and he finished 10th overall in the standings, leading to reports at the end of the year that he was disenchanted with the series and was considering a return to F1 with Renault. While that subsequently came to nothing and ended up in some acrimony between Raikkonen and the team, it raised questions as to how committed Kimi was to staying in WRC and whether he was looking for challenges elsewhere - including the United States, where it was noted that he turned up to watch the final NASCAR Sprint Cup race of 2010 at Homestead-Miami.
However, all of today's reports about a switch to NASCAR have come out of the blue and have caught many motor sports experts by surprise. With the beginning of April so close, many were wondering whether this was an April Fool's Day prank that broke early and which may have been missing something in translation as it spread like wildfire around the world via motorsports and social media sites. As of time of writing, Raikkonen's own website had no coverage of the story and its news section has not been updated since before Raikkonen's participation in the Rally of Portugal at the weekend.
At the very least, the news may be very premature. Bloomberg
reports Raikkonen's agent David Robertson as saying that "Negotiations are ongoing but nothing is guaranteed," in a telephone interview after the news broke. "Somebody had come to us with an offer and we are considering it."
The suggestion that Foster Gillett may be involved has also raised eyebrows, after the family ran up substantial debts at Gillett Evernham/Richard Petty Motorsports and while owners of Liverpool Football Club in the UK as well as currently holding the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey franchise in Canada.
"I really don't know why Kimi would partner with people who continually fail with sports franchises," former Gillett partner Ray Evernham is reported by Auto123.com
as saying. "I don't know how they could leave with so many unpaid bills and return to the sport."
All of which indicates that there's a long way to go before Raikkonen's switch to NASCAR can be considered a reality.