Three-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen will run the Cup Series race on the streets of Chicago in July, becoming the latest acclaimed international driver to venture to NASCAR's top series for Trackhouse Racing.
Van Gisbergen takes over in the No. 91 Chevrolet from former Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen, who was 37th a year ago at Watkins Glen and finished 27th at Circuit of the Americas in March.
"I can honestly say I have dreamed about an opportunity in NASCAR, but really never thought it would become a reality," van Gisbergen said. "I can't wait to get to the States to meet everyone and prepare for Chicago. It's NASCAR's first time on the streets of Chicago so in some ways everyone will be a rookie like me, but I don't underestimate that it's going to be a huge challenge."
Another Formula One world champ, Jenson Button, is planning to run the Chicago race as part of a three-race deal with Rick Ware Racing. He also ran at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas and will race on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Trackhouse Racing, which fields the No. 1 car for Ross Chastain and No. 99 for Daniel Suarez in the Cup Series, began PROJECT91 with the idea of expanding the team's global reach. Raikkonen created a buzz for NASCAR in his native Finland and elsewhere in Europe, while van Gisbergen, a New Zealander, hopes to do the same Down Under.
Van Gisbergen won his first Supercars championship in 2016 and added two more the past two years.
"I'll concede the American racing fan might not be as familiar with Shane," Trackhouse founder Justin Marks said, "but if you talk with anyone in Australia, New Zealand and that part of the world, they will tell you he is one of the most talented drivers on the planet. He's used to street racing in heavy cars and I think everyone will be very impressed with his performance."
Van Gisbergen will have Darian Grubb for a crew chief. He helped Tony Stewart win the Cup Series championship in 2011.
The 33-year-old van Gisbergen, who finished second in the GTD class in the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2015, plans to arrive in the U.S. in June and accompany the team to the Cup Series race June 24 at Nashville. He then will spend the week in the team shop before heading to Chicago.
"There is so much I have to learn about these cars and how the races run," van Gisbergen said. "The learning curve will be quite steep, but I am ready for everything they will throw at me. I know a lot of Kiwis and Aussies will be watching and I'm honored to get this opportunity."