Following his recent test for Red Bull Racing at Virginia International Raceway, the team confirmed Monday that the Audi factory driver and two-time DTM series champion Mattias Ekstrom will race for the team at the SaveMart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma's Infineon Raceway on June 20. The 31-year-old Swede will replace Casey Mears – the long-term sub for the sidelined Brian Vickers – in the team's No. 83 Toyota Camry for the event
"First of all, I'd like to express my sincere thanks to Red Bull for inviting a Swede with zero NASCAR experience to compete in the United States," said Ekstrom. "And to Audi for the possibility and approval that enable me to fulfill this dream."
Head of Audi Sport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich signed off sending his 14-time DTM race winner to the other side of the Atlantic. "Mattias' commitment as a guest entrant impressively shows the prestige which the DTM and the Audi drivers enjoy in the United States, too," he said. "In his test, Mattias showed that he can stand his ground with a new team and a new car on a new track. Now, everyone at Audi is keeping their fingers crossed for him to be able to cause a bit of a sensation in the race with a great performance."
Ekstrom is under no illusions about the challenge of adapting to the heavier Cup car from his DTM Audi touring car: "Tests are one thing and they were a good opportunity for me to get accustomed to a NASCAR vehicle. But contesting a race with 42 other cars is totally new territory for me," he said. "I'll simply try and concentrate on my strengths and to stay cool for 350 kilometers."
However, according to team's vice president and general manager, Jay Frye, it took little time for Ekstrom to get up to speed in the car in his single-day test, despite dealing with nearly twice the power of his DTM Audi A4, and a third more weight.
"We were worried about getting him up to speed in a day," Frye said about the test. "He was up to speed in an hour – less than an hour. He's a phenomenal talent."
In addition to his success in the Germany-based touring car series – only twice in nine seasons has he finished outside the top five in points – Ekström has proven his versatility and class in other motorsports disciplines. He's an active rally racer and three times has won the individual title at the Race of Champions.