Kimi Raikkonen, Mike Rockenfeller test Cup cars at VIR ahead of debuts

NASCAR‘s new testing rules for elite drivers from outside the stock car world were put to the test (pun intended) on Thursday as Kimi Räikkönen and Mike Rockenfeller took to Virginia International Raceway for some laps ahead of their Cup Series débuts.

NASCAR’s new non-regular “Select Driver Orientation Test” rules include stipulations like having “elite credentials from the highest forms of motorsports in the world”, testing with an organisation not connected to the team fielding the ride in the race, and both parties receiving express approval from NASCAR. The provisions were outlined in June following the announcement that Räikkönen would enter the Cup race at Watkins Glen in August.

Due to the limitation on the team fielding the test car, Räikkönen and Rockenfeller drove a generic Next Gen car prepared by IMSA team Action Express Racing. Still, Räikkönen’s employer Trackhouse Racing Team brought four employees to provide insight. The car, built as part of Next Gen road course testing in 2021, features no manufacturer badging (though Räikkönen and Rockenfeller will both drive Chevrolets in their races) and sports #31 to reflect AXR’s IMSA programme; the number prompted Justin Haley to quip, “Is Kimi replacing me in the 31?”

Räikkönen, the 2007 Formula One World Champion, previously tested at Virginia in 2011 for Robby Gordon Motorsports ahead of what would have been his maiden Cup start at Sonoma Raceway before going off course, damaging the nose and aborting the start. At the time, the Finn had run a race each in NASCAR’s Xfinity and Truck Series, though he would not return to the discipline for over a decade. Rockenfeller’s entry at the Charlotte Roval for Spire Motorsports will be his first foray into stock cars after enjoying tremendous success in endurance racing and DTM.

While Virginia International Raceway is not on the NASCAR schedule, it is frequently used as a test track for teams hoping to practice for road course racing.