Mika Salo and Jarno Trulli each spent a day this week behind the wheel of one of Michael Waltrip Racing’s Toyota NASCAR Sprint Cup cars.
Prior to their adventures at the half-mile New Smyrna Speedway, the pair spent last weekend with Waltrip’s team at the Phoenix NASCAR race. The little New Smryna track is located in Florida, about 20 minutes south of Daytona, and the NASCAR rookies benefited from the advice of veteran stock car ace Mark Martin, who lives nearby and showed up to watch.
Salo drove Waltrip’s car on Tuesday, completing 208 laps, and Trulli drove on Wednesday, running almost 400 laps. Both lapped in the high 18-second bracket, right on the pace. The test was operated by Waltrip’s technical director Steve Hallam, who worked in Formula 1 with Lotus and McLaren for 27 years before joining Waltrip at the end of last year.
“It went very well with both them,” said Hallam. “I think they got a lot out of it. Both were quick, as you would expect because they’re good drivers. So they’ve had their first taste of a stock car and what it can do for them. Jarno was smiling at the end of the day and when I saw Mika, just before he left, he was smiling too.”
Waltrip’s London-based partner Rob Kauffman met Salo at last year’s Le Mans 24 Hours, resulting in an invitation for the Finn to try the team’s Toyota Cup car. “Rob was the Mika connection and Toyota, obviously, was Jarno’s connection,” said Hallam.
“It’s been a very enjoyable two days. Listening to a European perspective of what our cars are like was quite interesting and informative, and I enjoyed sharing my experiences with them. I think they enjoyed their weekend with us in Phoenix and Mika will be with us again in Homestead this weekend. Jarno has a commitment in Japan, otherwise he would have been with us too.”
Waltrip’s team is complete for 2010 with Martin Truex Jr replacing the retiring Waltrip in the team’s #55 Toyota, and David Reutimann continuing in Waltrip’s second car. The team also runs a third car in a technical partnership with JTG Daugherty Racing for Australian Marcos Ambrose. So where does it go from here for Salo and Trulli?
“They need to sleep on it, think about it, talk with their people and reflect on whether they want to expand their experience or not,” said Hallam.
Slowly but surely, NASCAR is going global.