News & Media


Auton takes Raikkonen's adjustment personally

May 17, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Series director knows his role is to make sure rookie is comfortable at Charlotte

There may be only a handful of active drivers in the world with a resume as impressive as 2007 Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen. But when Raikkonen walks into the garage area at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend, it's as a Camping World Truck Series rookie.

And for series director Wayne Auton, that means making Raikkonen feel at home.

"The one thing we will do for him, just like any other driver, is bring him in, set him down, talk to him, explain to him some NASCAR ways, and mostly make him feel comfortable. As the series director, that's part of my job [to explain things]."

--WAYNE AUTON

"We're fortunate enough to have such a great series that we have a competitor like Kimi Raikkonen want to come and compete in Trucks," Auton said. "The one thing we will do for him, just like any other driver, is bring him in, set him down, talk to him, explain to him some NASCAR ways, and mostly make him feel comfortable. Most rookies who come in here don't set the world on fire right off the bat. As the series director, that's part of my job [to explain things].

"And then we go into things like, 'Here's how this race track races compares to other race tracks that you've raced at. You may have been here before, but this turn's a little different. You want to run high here, you want to run low here.' It's our job to make sure they feel comfortable, No. 1."

And that's as much about what's going on off the track as much as it is getting strapped in and making laps, Auton said.

"We bring them in and say, 'Here's when the meetings are. Here's the papers you've got to sign. Here's where the drivers meeting location is and by the way, you've got to go to the rookie meeting or you miss practice. You've got to be at the drivers meeting or you go to the rear. You've got to be at driver introductions in uniform, ready to go,' " he said.

Raikkonen, who won 18 F1 races over eight seasons, was impressive enough during testing sessions to land a ride with Kyle Busch's Truck team this season, beginning with Friday's 200-miler at Charlotte. Even though he's run more than a dozen World Rally Championship races, Auton said stock cars should present a different challenge to Raikkonen.

"I think the biggest thing he's going to have to get used to is he's used to open-wheel, open-cockpit [cars]," Auton said. "Now he's going to have a roof over his head and windows around him. And oh, by the way, there's going to be 35 other competitors -- and no disrespect to any other racing series, but these guys are usually side by side for 200 miles, 250 miles, whatever we race."

Auton said all rookies go through a learning curve, particularly when it comes to knowing the changes in downforce when another truck is racing close to your right rear bumper at high speeds.

"I think that's going to be his hardest adjustment: What does it feel like, especially for somebody in the Truck Series, when somebody's on that right side," Auton said. "Because if you don't know what it feels like, it will pull you around. And I don't care how great a driver you are.

"We've seen it happen to our two-time champion, Todd Bodine, at Kansas Speedway last year. A truck came up on the right side and off he went. And you can't sit here and tell anybody that. They've got to get that feel for it on the race track.

"Kimi Raikkonen is used to having someone on that right side, but it's not pulling that vehicle and tugging on it. Ricky Carmichael, when he came in, he had that experience but when he got here, he'll tell you it was the hardest thing he ever did, especially when you get to these faster race tracks."

The majority of Raikkonen's racing experience has come in high horsepower-to-weight ratio, high downforce vehicles. Because of that, Auton said his decision to try the Truck Series first was a smart move.

"The good thing about Kimi coming to trucks is -- of all of our NASCAR national series -- the Truck Series has the most downforce, but it's also the draggiest," Auton said. "So it sort of offsets.

"How does it plant when you go in? Where do you let off to actually make the truck turn itself without fighting it? Do I get on the brakes here? For him coming from a vehicle with the tons of downforce that they have, it's probably going to be a lot less than he's used to but it's a lot more than what it would be if he was in a Nationwide or a Cup car."

Auton said Charlotte should certainly provide an adequate challenge for the driver nicknamed "the Iceman." Even though Raikkonen is a world-class driver, it'll be his first time on a track that has befuddled the best, so having a mentor is a huge assist.

"I'll get another driver to go over and watch them on the race track and then while they're out there is run maybe behind them for a little bit," Auton said. "The first thing we'll tell Kimi to do when he comes into Charlotte is get out there and follow somebody for a little bit and learn the line of the race track, No. 1.

"Learning the line is probably the hardest thing that a rookie can do. Kimi's coming into a race track that's so track sensitive that one lap, it'll be this and the next lap, it's something totally different."