Mika Salo hopes to make the most of his first chance to sample NASCAR machinery, an opportunity he relishes as he looks for a new challenge. The 42-year-old is getting his first sample of a NASCAR car this week, driving for Michael Waltrip Racing at the half-mile New Smyrna Speedway, where former Formula 1 colleague Jarno Trulli is joining him as both drive on an oval track for the first time.
Salo had been looking for a NASCAR test for more than a year before he was finally able to get his chance with MWR, one that he was able to get through his relationship with the team's co-owner Robert Kauffman. The former Formula 1 racer and Le Mans GT-class champion says he is seriously considering a possible future in NASCAR, which he believes to be the new challenge he is looking for. He admits that having enjoyed success in sports cars, he wants to try out something new.
"It's really what I've been looking for – a new challenge, a new experience," Salo told AUTOSPORT. "I've been racing in the American Le Mans Series for the past three years and it's sort of getting boring, because you do the same thing year after year.
"I've won every race already, I won the championship, I won Le Mans twice with a GT car, I won Sebring twice, I won the Petit Le Mans twice already. So it's not really giving as much anymore, because it starts feeling already like going to work every morning, and I don't want that to happen. I need a new challenge."
Salo has been fond of NASCAR since he attended a race at Charlotte last year. He says after trying almost every form of racing, NASCAR is the only one missing and one that really fascinates him.
"It's a great show, unbelievable," Salo said. "It's the only form of racing I haven't done yet. I've even done rallies and motorbikes and everything, so this is a thing that has always fascinated me but I never got too close.
"Last year I went to Charlotte for the race, and that was really the turning point. I was standing in Turn 4 when they came out of the corners and the hair on my skin stood up. I thought, 'I really want to get in one of those.' Now it's happening, finally."
The Finn doesn't have his plans for 2010 set yet and he says following this week's Sprint Cup test at New Smyrna with Michael Waltrip Racing, he expects to have more elements to decide if he really wants to pursue a career in stock cars.
"I'd say I'd love to do it, but I don't want to do it if I'm really slow and bad at it," said Salo. "I just want to get my feeling first and then see what happens. My main goal was to get the test done at least and know what I'm talking about, see what all the fuss is about.
"Everybody who watches TV, especially in Europe, believes NASCAR can't be really difficult. It's like, 'Look at these guys, they just go around on an oval.' But when you stand next to the track and see how they exit the corners, that's impressive."