PROJECT91: 5 Drivers who should be on TrackHouse’s radar for 2023/2024

Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen in 2022

PROJECT91 was created by Justin Marks and TrackHouse Racing in 2022 to intersect NASCAR and global motorsport and expand international reach.

Justin Marks, the CEO and founder of Trackhouse Racing, created a unique program in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2022 called “PROJECT91.” The program, which made its debut at Watkins Glen International in August with retired Formula 1 legend and 2007 World Champion Kimi Räikkönen, was created to give international drivers an opportunity to experience NASCAR at its top level.

An idea that started out as a tweet in 2018 by then part-time NASCAR driver and full-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver Justin Marks, finally came to fruition just four years later.

Now that the 2022 Cup Series season has come and gone, with Räikkönen being the lone entry for PROJECT91, the possibility for Marks expanding this program to include more international drivers from all different series across the entire world seems highly likely.  With five road courses (COTA, Sonoma, Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, Charlotte Roval) and one street course (Chicago) on the 2023 schedule, there are more opportunities for Marks and Team TrackHouse to field more than one driver in the No. 91 next season.

Although Marks has gone on record to say the seat is still Räikkönen’s if he wants it, many drivers have reached out about possibly negotiating with Marks and having the opportunity to race in the NASCAR Cup Series.

With that being said and without including Räikkönen, here are the top five drivers I’d love to see compete with TrackHouse Racing and PROJECT91 over the next two seasons.

1: Shane van Gisbergen, Supercars

The first driver I would like to see make their NASCAR debut is New Zealand’s Shane van Gisbergen (SVG), who is a three-time Supercars Champion. When you look at the list of domination in motorsport over the past few years, Gisbergen is one of the drivers who is atop the list. Gisbergen has won back-to-back Supercars championships, including winning a record-breaking 21 wins in 32 races this season (two remaining), and winning 14 out of 31 races last season.

Gisbergen also won the 2022 Global Racing Index Database (GRID) Ranking Championship, which is a motorsports network that uses an FIA points system to rank all drivers across eight major motorsports series (NASCAR, F1, Formula E, IndyCar, WRC, Supercars, MotoGP and W Series).

In his Supercars Championship career, Gisbergen has accumulated 75 wins and 171 podium finishes over 462 races. He currently pilots the No. 97 Holden ZB Commodore for Triple Eight Race Engineering (branded as Red Bull Ampol Racing).

The most likely race Gisbergen would participate in would be NASCAR’s inaugural street-course race in Chicago on Sunday, July 2nd, as the Supercars are off that weekend.

2: Daniel Ricciardo, Formula 1

The second driver, and arguably the most fun, I would like to see make their NASCAR debut is Australian Formula 1 driver Daniel Ricciardo. Ricciardo’s chances of racing in NASCAR next season have dramatically increased, as the eight-time Grand Prix winner does not have a full-time seat on the 2023 grid, but he has just been recently announced as a candidate for Red Bull’s reserve driver position.

Ricciardo seems like a clear-cut choice for Marks for numerous reasons. To start, Ricciardo has loved NASCAR and has said on multiple occasions that he would love to race in the sport one day. Ricciardo also drives the No. 3 car for McLaren, which also happens to be the same number one of his favorite drivers of all time drove in his career… Dale Earnhardt Sr.

In 2021, Ricciardo had one of his biggest dreams come true, as he got behind the wheel of Earnhardt Sr.’s 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo at one of his favorite tracks (COTA). This isn’t the first time Ricciardo has been behind the wheel of a NASCAR stock car, as he got behind the wheel of the No. 83 Red Bull Racing Toyota Camry at the Red Bull Speed Jam event in 2011.

When discussing a potential move to the IndyCar Series in 2023 earlier this year, Ricciardo simply said “F**k that, ovals are scary,” which likely means that if Ricciardo were to make his NASCAR debut, it would be at one of the five road courses on the schedule.

3: Sebastian Vettel, Formula 1

The third driver I would like to see make their NASCAR debut also comes from Formula 1, and that is four-time German Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel. Vettel, who currently drives for Aston Martin, will be retiring from Formula One at the end of the season, leaving the sport as one of the greatest to ever do it.

During his 15-year F1 career, Vettel became one of the most successful drivers in the history of the sport, driving for five different teams (Aston Martin, BMW Sauber, Toro Rosso, Red Bull, and Ferrari), while earning 53 Grand Prix wins (3rd most all time), including nine consecutive race victories in 2013 (most all time). Vettel also has the fourth most poles (57) of all time.

Just like the previously listed drivers, most of Vettel’s success has come in a Red Bull car, as he was driving for Red Bull during his four consecutive Formula 1 World Championships (2010-2013).

At age 35, Vettel is still quite young in the racing world, which gives him plenty of time to not only return to Formula One someday but also to experience other forms of racing and make his NASCAR debut with PROJECT91. As one of the all-time greats in both F1 and motorsport in general, it is likely Vettel would be able to compete at any road course in NASCAR competitively.

4: Sébastien Ogier, World Rally Championship

The fourth driver I would like to see make their NASCAR debut is retired French WRC driver Sébastien Ogier. When discussing WRC, it is quite impossible not to mention the success that Ogier has had in the sport. To many, he is on the Mount Rushmore of racing drivers

Ogier retired from full-time WRC racing in 2021, after winning his eighth World Rally Championship (2nd most all-time), and finishing his career with 55 Event wins (2nd most all-time).

Ogier, just like Gisbergen, Ricciardo, and Vettel, has had Red Bull on his car during his success. Although asphalt is not the main driving surface in the WRC, Ogier’s success on all racing surfaces could help give him a competitive advantage if he were to earn a seat with PROJECT91 for a one-off race in the coming seasons.

5: Juan Pablo Montoya, Everything

The fifth driver on this list that I would like to see race with PROJECT91 in 2023 is a Colombian racing driver who is probably familiar to fans of any motorsport. Although the 47-year-old is probably the most unlikely of the five.

Montoya is one of the most underrated drivers in motorsport history. This is why giving him a shot with Marks and PROJECT91 could be the icing on the cake for his career. Montoya is remembered by many NASCAR fans for his unfortunate incident in the 2012 Daytona 500, where he crashed into a track jet dryer, causing an explosion.

When it comes to success across disciplines throughout his career, it’s hard to put many ahead of Montoya. Notable accolades of Montoya’s racing career include:

  • NASCAR Cup Series: 2 wins (both road courses), 59 top-tens, 255 races.
  • Formula 1: 7 wins, 30 podiums, 95 entries.
  • IndyCar: 5 wins (2 Indy 500s), 13 podiums, 57 races.
  • Champ Car: 10 wins, 13 podiums, 40 races, 1999 Champion.
  • IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship: 4 Rolex 24 at Daytona wins, 2019 Champion with Dane Cameron.

It’s safe to say Montoya is one of the best and most versatile drivers in the history of motorsport, as he is one of the very few to have success in seemingly every car he set foot in. Montoya is also only one of three drivers in the history of motorsport to have at least one win in NASCAR, IndyCar, and Formula 1, joining Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney.

Montoya’s only career NASCAR wins are at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, two road courses the Cup Series still races at. If he were to race for PROJECT91, I would expect him to be at one of those two tracks. However, due to Montoya already experiencing NASCAR during his career, this pick will likely be the most fantasy of them all.

Honorable Mentions: Jenson Button, Formula 1 & Valentino Rossi, MotoGP

There are many more drivers that I would like to see participate in NASCAR someday. Two of the most notable left off the list are the 2009 F1 Champion Jenson Button and seven-time Italian MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi.

Button earned 15 wins and 50 podiums in 309 races (5th most all-time) during his F1 career.

Rossi earned 89 wins (most all-time), 199 podiums (most all-time), and 372 starts (most all-time) in his MotoGP career.

PROJECT91 is a program that can contribute to a rise in NASCAR viewership outside of the United States in the years ahead. Whether Marks decides to put one of the seven drivers listed, or any other international driver in his No. 91 Chevy, what he has created is something truly special for both NASCAR and all of motorsport.

At this time, it is uncertain how many drivers and how many entries PROJECT91 will have on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule. With five road courses and one street course next season, it is quite possible to see the No. 91 in all six of these races. However, due to NASCAR’s business model and charter system, it is more likely to see a PROJECT91 entry at just a few events.

Featured Image Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images