Some might say it is rather an ironic partnership for a driver whose F1 press conference appearances were anything but animated, but Kimi Raikkonen is to be backed by the wonderfully-named Perky Jerky for his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) debut with Kyle Busch Motorsports next month.
Last weekend, confirming what had initially been dismissed in the motorsport world as an elaborate early April Fool, it was announced that Raikkonen will campaign a KBM truck in 'three-to-five races' in NCWTS this year, as and when his World Rally Championship commitments with his own Ice 1 Racing Team allow [see separate story – click here
It subsequently emerged that the 2007 F1 World Champion is paying in the region of USD $100,000 per race – beginning with the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on 20 May, in-between Rally Sardinia and Rally Argentina – and now it transpires that the funding will come from Tag Heuer, Oakley, Alpine Stars...and Perky Jerky, which Raikkonen has described as 'an excellent product', reasoning that 'not only does it taste great, but it is a fun brand to be a part of'.
The Denver-based company produces seasoned beef jerky and already has an association with NASCAR through the curtain-raising Daytona 500. Founder and chairman Brian Levin is enthusiastic indeed about the dynamic new collaboration.
“[This is] the perfect storm of a hot, new brand and a world-class athlete looking to expand his greatness,” he underlined. “Kimi Raikkonen is a savvy competitor and marketer worldwide, and he is a perfect fit for the culture of our lifestyle brand. The 'Iceman' offers Perky Jerky a unique opportunity to vault itself into the global spotlight, and we are excited to be a part of this.”
Meanwhile, Raikkonen has already been out testing his new Toyota Tundra, completing more than 400 laps of Georgia's Gresham Motorsports Park on Monday and Tuesday earlier this week before going on to try out Rockingham in NASCAR's heartland of North Carolina two days later.
“I really had no expectations or anything to compare it to beforehand, but I am really looking forward to the first race,” the 31-year-old confessed. “It seems like KBM is a top team, and I am excited to work with them.”
Team owner Kyle Busch professed himself satisfied with the progress made, especially after his new team-mate proceeded to match him for lap time after such a short acclimatisation to his new – and very different – toy. The 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series Champion revealed that whilst Raikkonen is interested in moving on to Nationwide and Sprint Cup competition in the fullness of time, that possibility will be assessed in the wake of his NCWTS bow.
“The test went really well at Gresham,” Busch is quoted as having said by The Associated Press
. “He did good. Kimi is a race car driver, so he does know how to drive race cars and drive them well. I got to see it first-hand, and then got to get in the truck myself and run some laps just to kind of see how I compared to where he was at on tyres and stuff, and we ran identical lap times. He ran a lot better than we expected [him] to run, a lot faster than we expected [him] to run. I'm real happy with it. He's right there; he knows what he's doing.
“As far as the Nationwide and Cup stuff goes, we haven't had any discussions on that. He has asked after the truck debut in Charlotte, which is what our first focus is, [to] kind of evaluate and see where he's at and how he feels and what he wants to do.”
“On the one hand, of course I'm not surprised considering all the experience possessed by Kimi and his world title,” added KBM general manager Rick Ren, “but on the other hand, it was a very pleasant surprise.”
Raikkonen's impressive turn-of-speed first time out did not surprise former McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Juan-Pablo Montoya, however, the Colombian having made the move across the Pond to NASCAR at the end of 2006. The 35-year-old is the first ex-F1 driver ever to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“Kimi has a lot of talent,” he reasoned. “He will be fine. If anybody could do it, it would be him.”