Michael Waltrip Racing officials say the team is serious about the upcoming NASCAR test for former Toyota F1 driver Jarno Trulli.
Trulli will be driving a Sprint Cup Series Toyota Camry on Nov. 16-17 at the half-mile New Smyrna Speedway in Florida, a test that he has stressed he will be doing just for fun. Mika Salo, also a former Toyota driver in the team's debut season in Formula 1, will be joining him.
Team owner Michael Waltrip is taking the opportunity to run Trulli in one of his cars seriously, even while remembering that the Italian's intentions are initially just to sample stock cars and ovals for the first time. He says, however, that as any other driver, Trulli may want to be able to perform well on his first NASCAR outing.
"He just wants to try it out," Waltrip said. "But we're serious about the test, Toyota is supporting it, our team, engineers, everybody is into the test. We will give it all the effort that we would give to any test.
"I don't know what Jarno's plans are. I know he is just doing it for fun, but I know that it's going to be important for him to do it. He's a racecar driver – he'll want to be as fast as anyone and so we're going to make sure that he has all the support that he needs to be able to accomplish that."
Steve Hallam, former McLaren head of operations, and current vice president and director of competition for Michael Waltrip Racing, says that testing drivers from other series is part of the team's strategic planning for the future. Although he believes Trulli still has options to remain in Formula 1, he leaves the door open for him or Salo maybe following in Juan Pablo Montoya's footsteps, if the right opportunity comes along.
"There's a great desire of ours to see how someone from another discipline just warms to what we do," Hallam told AUTOSPORT. "If you look at Juan Pablo (Montoya), he is doing exceptionally well. He is a very, very talented driver, period. Whatever he drives, he would be good at and this year he is really showing that a driver from a single-seater background, particularly as open minded as Juan Pablo is, is really delivering in this series.
"Who knows? Strategically, MWR has always got to look at the future. If you stand still in this business, be it technical development or your business development, you'll be overrun. So we've always got an eye on the future. We'd love to expand to a fourth car when time and sponsorship and the right opportunity permits. Looking at drivers from other series is just as interesting and just as strategic as that."
Trulli, who already had a seat fitting at MWR's shop in North Carolina last week, is expected to attend Sunday's race at Phoenix, before driving a Cup car for the first time next week.