How Kimi spent his time away from F1 – Part 3

By on Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kimi Raikkonen at his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut in Charlotte

Kimi Raikkonen enjoys driving anything that moves fast. This has been a known fact for some time now. The stories about boat competitions in gorilla suits and snowmobile races under the pseudonym ‘James Hunt’ made big headlines during his first stint in Formula 1.

The two-year long sabbatical from the rigid world of F1 allowed him to try out whatever he felt like trying, with the small difference that now, he entered events under his own name. In addition to his participation in the World Rally Championship, which we have already analysed in the first two parts of this feature (Part 1 here and Part 2 here), the Finn has raced NASCAR cars and trucks; as well as enduro bikes and snowmobiles. He has also tested a Le Mans prototype and taken part in motorsport shows, jumped off a cliff… Oh! And he became the team owner of a motocross team, maybe because he felt like doing something a bit more 'serious'.

Kimi Raikkonen’s other adventures in 2010 and 2011

Of all the extracurricular activities Raikkonen took part in during the past two years, the one that got the most media attention was his American stint in NASCAR. The Finn decided to make the most out of the nine-week break he had between the 2011 Jordan and the Greek rallies and accepted an offer to race in the American ovals. Sponsored by Perky Jerky, a caffeinated beef jerky, the Iceman packed his bags and flew to North Carolina.

After sending his resume to NASCAR's driver credentialing committee, Raikkonen was allowed to make his debut in the Camping World Truck Series at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a 1.5 mile quad-oval track. It is not the easiest place to start for somebody with no experience at all driving in ovals, but the commission considered a F1 championship and finishing regularly in the points in the WRC were good enough credentials and thus allowed him to race.

The Finn was very warmly welcomed in the series. A lot of media attention and his ex-teammate Juan Pablo Montoya were waiting for him when he finally arrived at the track. Montoya spent time with Raikkonen in the box during the first practice to make him feel at home and was also there standing next to the Iceman while he was waiting for the race to start. Asked about his expectations and future plans in NASCAR, Raikkonen was clear:

“If I completely suck here, there is no reason to come back”, he said. Luckily he did not blame himself.

The race day – the two practice sessions, qualifying and race took place on the same day – started off on the wrong foot. The handling of the #15 Perky Jerky Toyota prepared by Kyle Busch’s team was really difficult; the car was extremely loose (oversteery). The Iceman took the curves sideways a few times, but he never lost control of the car – not bad for a rally driver. However, after qualifying 31st, the race went much better.

In a race full of incidents – there were 10 cautions, matching the previous record from 2005 – some of them just in front of Raikkonen’s car, the Finn managed to finish in 15th position, on the lead lap, and impressed with his car control and racecraft. Moreover, Raikkonen had the highest finish of all three ex-Formula 1 drivers who took part in the race: Kimi, Nelson Piquet Jr and Max Papis. When he stepped out of the car, Raikkonen looked happy and it seemed he had just had a lot of fun. And that must have been really the case since he then made the surprising announcement that he was going to stay a week longer at Charlotte and take part in the Nationwide Series race - a category one step above the Truck Series - which was scheduled the following week.

He stepped for the first time into his Nationwide Series car, without any prior testing, during the first practice. But at least he knew the track. On this occasion, he drove the #87 car of Joe Nemechek. As in the previous week, the car was prepared by Kyle Busch’s team and sponsored by Perky Jerky. The qualifying went much better this time, he qualified 22nd in a much more competitive field. His pace during the race was very good and he was able to stay on the lead lap for most of the race. Nevertheless, it just turned to be... one of those races; quite an entertaining race for those of us listening to his radio frequency but not so enjoyable for Raikkonen. To begin with, he was not wearing boots with insulating soles and the Iceman almost melted.

“Biggest problem is my foot. It’s burning” and “I don't understand how this car can be so hot. My *ss is even burning in here!” are some examples of what we heard on the radio. But Raikkonen is a man of many resources so when he was asked again about the problem, he had already found a solution. “They [the feet] are burning, but I get them off the floor so it’s better. Need drink.”

Of course, when it is hot, hydration is fundamental. However, it turned out to be more difficult than expected to supply the Finn with enough water.

“Need drink”
“I need my drinking bottle… HEY! Give me my drinking bottle!”
“I’m out of drink again. I don’t know, it is so small”
“Tell Mark [Arnall] he has to care it is full. It is so small”
“Next pit some water”

The 'Watergate' made some of the crew members nervous. During one of the pit stops, a mistake was made and an empty water bottle was handed to the melting driver. As the mistake was discovered by a crew member, he began to shout on the radio asking for the right bottle. Kimi don’t-talk-to-me-in-the-middle-of-the-corner-unless-you-are-Kaj-Lindstrom Raikkonen did not hesitate to show his displeasure at the ruckus on the radio:

"Why you shouting on the f*cking radio?"

To make matters worse, the car was handling very badly. On this occasion, it was too tight (understeery), perhaps helped by the couple of times Raikkonen had brushed the wall.

"We're so f*cking sh*t, it's unbelievable."
"Did you see how f*cking bad it is? I cannot even turn the car into the corner... And remember, I need water."
"The car is just so f*cking bad."
"The car is sh*t because I cannot get it turned! It is so frustrating! I cannot get the f*cking car turned!"
"Don't talk about other things on the radio".

And there are still people who maintain that Raikkonen does not give feedback?

In addition to the burning feet, the lack of water and the understeery nature of his car, Raikkonen had to serve a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane – there is no pit lane speed limiter button in NASCAR. He also managed to drive over a radiator split that had fallen off another car, which is quite a remarkable thing since, in NASCAR, a hot dog wrapper, or even a bit of ‘invisibris’, is enough to cause a caution and bring out the pace car onto the track.

After so many incidents, he finished the race in 27th position, boarded a plane and was found the following day on his yacht at the Monaco Grand Prix, partying with his friends, The Dudesons. Nevertheless, on a more serious note, it seems the two weeks Raikkonen spent in the USA turned out to be very important. He admits those NASCAR races had awakened a desire in him to race wheel-to-wheel again.

Another race Raikkonen took part in during this time did not involve a four-wheeled vehicle but a two-wheeled one. The F1 champion teamed up with four-time WRC champion Tommi Makinen and seven-time World Enduro Champion Kari Tiainen and entered the 2010 Karme Kustaa Enduro race in the ‘Business Class’. They named their team “Mestarit ravassa” which could be translated as “Masters in the mud" and finished 8th. In an interview with the Finnish journal Iltalehti after the event, the Iceman was asked if he had any problems during the race. His answer:

“No. Crashed a few times.”

Not too long after this race, Kimi Raikkonen and Kari Tiainen announced they had founded a motocross team, ICE1RACING, with the goal of helping young riders. In 2011, the team had two riders participating in the FIM Motocross World Championship and six juniors participating in the Finnish MX League. Raikkonen could often be found supporting his team on the circuit when his other obligations allowed him to.

The other vehicle that Raikkonen has raced lately, as far as we know, does not have wheels. It is a snowmobile. The F1 champion recently entered the Swatch Snow Mobile 2011 in Saalbach Hinterglemm, Austria. He was one of the six riders of the Team Red Bull Mobile, together with motocross rider Michael Staufer, Frank Kostner, BMX cyclist Senad Grosic, female Turkish rally driver Burcu Cetinkaya and her co-driver Cicek Guney. Raikkonen did not race for too long though, he took a curve a bit too fast and fell off the skidoo, ending up with a sore wrist. Nothing too serious but for sure, enough to make some hearts in Enstone palpitate faster for a little while.

Kimi Raikkonen taking part in the Swatch Snow Mobile race in Austria

However, not everything in life is racing; testing different vehicles is also good fun. Raikkonen has never made a secret of his interest in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Since the Finn was driving a Citroen in the World Rally Championship, the natural solution was to test a LMP1-class Peugeot given that both Peugeot and Citroen belong to the PSA Group. His chance came in August this year, when he tested the Peugeot 908 in Motorland Aragon, Spain. As the Iceman revealed to F1Racing magazine, he enjoyed the experience although the car required some adaptation.

“The Le Mans car was interesting but, to be honest, the steering was quite sh*t and the windscreen was really strange – it sort of distorts the view… maybe because it’s very round,” he said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like with oil and mess after you’ve been racing for a long time. But I enjoyed the experience and the car felt good.”

In addition, the 2007 F1 world champion has taken part in a couple of motorsport shows. This summer he had the chance to drive a rally car and a buggy, together with Sebastien Loeb, in a roadshow in Helsinki, very close to his hometown and in front of his family.

Also, in June 2010, he participated in a show at Erzberg Rodeo, where he challenged Endurocross and Extreme Enduro champion Taddy Blazusiak. The Finn drove the 13km road section in his C4 WRC and the Pole in his KTM trial bike. The loser had to clean the vehicle of the winner. Luckily for Raikkonen, he won.

After the event, Raikkonen remained in Austria to be interviewed by ‘Sport und Talk aus dem Hangar-7’, a show on ServusTV, which is a television channel owned by Red Bull team owner Dietrich Mateschitz. During the interview, the presenter revealed the Finn had jumped off a cliff into a lake. Asked about the experience, Raikkonen was laconic as usual.

“The water was very cold,” he said.

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