There is no questioning Jacques Villeneuve’s talent behind the wheel. His 2 year stint in IndyCar produced 5 wins, an Indianapolis 500 and a series championship. during a very competitive era of IndyCar Racing. Names like Unser, Andretti, Fittipaldi, Tracy and Rahal were all the big players in the game and Villeneuve took IndyCar by storm.
His Indy 500 win was one of the true spirited drives in 500 history coming back from a 2 lap deficit for a penalty to win the race. His win was partially aided by leader Scott Goodyear being disqualified for passing the pace car on the final restart, but for Villeneuve to drive the wheels of the car to put himself back in contention to win the 500, is very noteworthy.
After IndyCar, Sir Frank Williams tapped him to drive in Formula 1, where for the first 2 years grabbed the bull by the horns and took name, much like he did in IndyCar. He nearly pulled off the unthinkable– winning in his first Grand Prix and a year later he dominated and held off a fight from Michael Schumacher, literally during the last Grand Prix of the season at Jerez, Spain.
After leaving Williams in 1999 to drive for BAR Racing at the direction of manager Craig Pollock, his career took a nosedive and only scored 2 podiums and bounced from BAR to Renault to finish out the 2004 season and moved to BMW Sauber for 2005 and 2006 where he was let go after crashing out of the German Grand Prix in 2006.
After F1, he dabbled in sportscars and tried his hands at stock car racing with an attempt for Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2008, but that fell thru due to sponsorship and ran in the Nationwide Series on a part time basis running on Road Courses including his home track at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, named for his father. He drew the ire of his competitors during his Nationwide stint with a few over aggressive moves, which brought out the villainous side of the Canadian.
Career nuggets aside, the question is what does this mean for both IndyCar and Villeneuve?
For Villeneuve, it gives him a chance at racing at the Indianapolis 500 again, which winning Indy multiple times adds value to ones career. By the same token, what are the odds that he actually wins the 500? He has not raced on an oval since 1995 and has been out of an open wheel car since 2006, so it will take him some time to adapt for sure to the new car.
Even with proper testing, he is going up against guys that compete in IndyCar full-time and simply being a news maker, i.e. finishing in the top 5/leading laps in a one off deal is going to be tough.
One motivating factor that he mentioned was having kids. Having kids is a life changing proposition and he cites that he want his kids to see him race rather than read about him in the history books.
I don’t want to be for my kids just the guy that used to race that they can see in books. I want them to see and live what I’ve already lived, to see it through my doing it actively.
It’s actually a positive effect to have kids.
He still feels that he has competitive spirit, too and on that note he seems to think that IndyCar has moved on the from the negative IRL years, which he was very critical of and cited the IRL was a reason he never had a desire to return to Indy, until now.
I just wasn’t considering going back to something I’d already done mostly because there’s been a few dark years for IndyCar.
But the whole group behind the series have been working really hard and done a tremendous job because it’s getting back to the glory days with the races exciting and also the field of drivers is becoming more and more impressive every year again.
For IndyCar, it is not going to be a major needle mover.
With his popularity in his native Canada, that could bring potential viewership and interest from north of the border. He is still a big name in Auto Racing and as NBC Sports’ Tony DiZinno put it, it is something for commercial partners to hang their hat on.
Bringing back a former winner of the 500 that has been out of the IndyCar loop for a long time is taking a page from the past rather than focusing on the future stars of the sport.