Former F1 World Champion and current World Rally Championship star Kimi Raikkonen will compete in up to five events for the front-running Kyle Busch Motorsports outfit in the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS), it has been confirmed.
The first rumours linking Raikkonen to a NASCAR foray emerged last week, and although initially dismissed in some quarters as an early April Fool, they swiftly gathered pace – and credence – after he was subsequently approved to compete by the championship's sanctioning body [see separate story – click here
What was somewhat wide of the mark, however, was the speculation that suggested the Finn would be linking up with controversial NASCAR pariah Foster Gillett, the man widely condemned for pummelling Richard Petty Motorsport into near-financial oblivion.
Rather, the 'Ice Man' will be joining forces with Kyle Busch Motorsports for a limited schedule of 'between three-to-five races' in a KBM truck, and will partner defending NCWTS owners' champion Busch inside the team that triumphed in ten of the 35 races last year as and when his partial WRC programme allows, beginning with the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on 20 May.
Raikkonen is due to test his new toy around the half-mile Gresham Motorsports Park oval in Jefferson, Georgia, today (Monday), and a KBM spokesman has insisted that Gillett 'did not have any involvement – this deal is between us and Kimi'.
“I am really excited to have the opportunity to start my venture into NASCAR with Kyle Busch Motorsports," enthused the 18-time grand prix-winner. “Kyle is one of the best in NASCAR, and being able to draw on his knowledge will be a valuable asset as I make my transition to a new form of racing. He has put together an experienced team that builds fast race trucks. I look forward to being a part of a team that has proven to be a winner on and off the race track.”
Both 2009 Nationwide Series Champion Busch and KBM general manager Rick Ren are similarly enthusiastic about the dynamic new partnership.
“I have yet to speak to Kimi myself, but apparently there's an interest with him that he wants to run in NASCAR and he's been shopping around to quite a few teams, and apparently we won the war,” Busch revealed, admitting that he is 'honoured' to have secured the services of such a high-profile driver. “Kimi, from what I understand, was real adamant about wanting to work with me and our team and put together a deal.
“I don't know where the money is coming from. My contract is with Kimi himself. I do know that there are three sponsors involved [and] there is money backing him. We're starting at Charlotte and we'll kind of fill out from there, see what other races he wants to do and what his schedule will allow him to do. We know we're going to test with him on Monday and get him some laps in the truck, and then we're going to see him in Charlotte, so we're looking forward to that – all the Kyle Busch Motorsports people are.