For a driver who has won the Formula 1 World Championship and won the Indy 500 in his back pocket, there’s not much Jacques Villeneuve needs on his motorsport resume – but the 1997 champion is eager to return to racing full-time in 2023.
Which tournament did he choose? NASCAR Cup Series.
In his first appearance in the Cup at the season-opener Daytona 500 earlier this year, the Canadian showed he’s still fast, and he’s hoping to make a positive impression on potential team bosses.
RacingNews365.com He spoke exclusively to the illustrious driver at Monza and found that he had yet to get out of his mind the famous ‘Triple Crown’.
“It was great to be in this year’s Daytona 500,” Villeneuve enthusiastically began his review of his motorsport debut.
“It was a great weekend, with two motorhomes my family stayed in because my two firstborns came to see me too. It was a really great weekend because of that.
“I drove a really good weekend and tried to help the smaller Hezeberg team by bringing a couple of experienced players with them.
“They were Tommy Baldwin and Bill Burns, both of whom I’ve known for a long time. I worked with Burns at the NASCAR European Championships where I was competing against Team Heisberg and Loris Hezemans.”
Daytona 500 . Challenges
Unlike Formula 1 during Villeneuve’s time and in modern times, Villeneuve’s 27th machine was (of course, of course) not a starting point.
The Daytona 500 is usually subscribed to a 40 start limit, but 42 drivers tried to qualify for the race.
Big teams like Penske or Hendrick Motorsports are guaranteed their place through the charter system, but for smaller outfits like Villeneuve’s Hezeberg operation, it will be a challenge.
In the end, he was one of two drivers who entered by their qualifying speed alone, starting at 40.
“It was a tough race in Daytona and actually we couldn’t even qualify for the race,” he says.
“As you can see, we were a small team, but we put in the show and even finished the race, which is great. Also great because we had a lot of technical issues in the previous period, so we had a little bit of time to test.
“Fortunately, I had driven some NASCAR cars in the past and also at some ovals, and as a result I knew quite a few drivers who were racing and that helped me a lot. They respected me and I respect them, so it allows you to race each other too.”
There was also a moment when Villenov clearly looked back with pride.
“It was a special event for me because just before the start Mr. Ford came to say hi to me, it was special.”
© Team Hezeberg
Villeneuve reveals future hopes for NASCAR
“After the race, some drivers came to me to praise me, because nothing went wrong,” Villeneuve continued, after finishing 22nd.
“That was cool, because you have to earn the respect of the drivers,” he says.
“It was a great experience, but unfortunately it was just the Daytona race. I would have liked to drive a lot of races with the team, and that was the plan, but unfortunately the team didn’t follow through.
“I was disappointed with that because I would have loved to race in NASCAR and move forward with the team. It is what it is and I understand that the team put all their cards on Loris Huismans, because they always expressed that up front as well.”
Villeneuve is currently attending the Grands Prix as an Analyst for Canal+. As a result, the former Williams driver has little time to race himself, but in 2023 Villeneuve’s life could look a lot different.
“I definitely want to continue in NASCAR and even do an entire season!” He said.
“Right now, I’m pretty busy with Canal+ TV broadcasts that are taking a lot of time, and as a result I’m not into racing cars enough at the moment. However, the plan is for me to go all the way to NASCAR.
“I’ve always loved NASCAR and have always loved driving on ovals, for example in IndyCar [the class in which Villeneuve won the Indy 500 and the championship in 1995]. “
What Villeneuve loves about NASCAR
Villeneuve explained what he loves about the trophy series: “I love working with the engineers to make the car even better, but when the starting lights go out I want to be able to.”
“When there is damage they fix it with a hammer and that’s the kind of thing I just love. It’s still in the old way of improving the car.
“You sit with the engineer and discuss corner by corner how you feel and what needs improvement. I love it!”
Despite NASCAR’s unprecedented popularity in America, the class is not on the list of how racing drivers can win the legendary Triple Crown, the most unofficial title in motorsports which, according to many, requires a driver to win the Indy 500, 24 Hours of Le Mans and a prize Greater Monaco. Another class that won the Formula One World Championship replaced the victory in Monaco.
So far, only Graham Hill has managed to get the Triple Crown. The legendary Briton not only received the above three awards, but also won the Monaco Grand Prix. The last race Villeneuve never won, but he did take the 1997 Formula 1 world title and the 1995 Indy 500 win to his name.
Triple Crown is still a target for Villeneuve
In 2008, Villeneuve finished second with Peugeot in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, so he cannot yet call himself the winner of the Triple Crown.
Although it would be difficult for him to add the missing achievement to his name, he did not rule out the possibility.
“I still want to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” the Canadian explained.
“That’s still missing from my list of awards for getting the Triple Crown together. That’s why I’d like to continue to lead the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but this is going to be difficult.”
“It’s hard to get a seat because the factory teams already have full projects ready, but of course I’d like to win the Triple Crown. It’s what it is and now I’m focused on NASCAR.
“It’s very difficult to do well in that class. Fans have always thought they weren’t tech cars driving there, but nothing could be further from the truth.
“These cars are incredibly well built and it’s hard to get that extra bit of something out of a car like this and that’s exactly what I love about it.”