By Dodge Motorsports
JACQUES VILLENEUVE (No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge Challenger R/T)
“It’s always fun to come back to Road America. Every time I’ve been here, it’s been fun driving, racing. It’s a track that allows you to be a little bit aggressive on the brakes in a racing situation. It’s a long lap, a lot can happen. You feel like you’re going somewhere when you’re driving around. The corners are actually difficult. There are a bunch of different speeds and length of corners. If you look at last year, I think there was a lot of action in the race. So, that was a lot of fun.
“A cable came loose (last year) one lap from the end. That was a little bit frustrating. Until then, we were running second and hopefully we could fight Carl (Edwards, last year’s race winner) on the last lap. That’s part of racing. When you’ve been in it for a few years, you realize there are good days and bad days and sometimes there’s nothing we can do about it.
“Now, coming back this year, it’s more exciting because I’m coming in with the Penske team. I’ve always had a huge amount of respect for the whole organization since my IndyCar days, for Roger and all his crew. To now be a part of the family, even if it’s for one race weekend, is very special. I’m stepping in some good shoes; Brad (Keselowski) normally drives that car and does an amazing job, so that’s good and it’s with his sponsors as well. I’ve very happy about that.
“Also, we’re coming with a new car, a brand new car. So, there are no setups from the past. You start with a blank sheet of paper and hopefully, having a lot of road-course experience should help in setting the car up quickly.”
HOW DID THIS DEAL WITH PENSKE COME TOGETHER; DO YOU THINK YOU’RE RUN HERE LAST YEAR HELPED? “I’m sure running good last year helps. Anytime you run well, it opens the door a little bit. I’ve been working on NASCAR for quite a few years now. It’s slow progress, but it’s always a little progress. You never give up and keep going. Also, I think there’s been some good respect toward one another since the IndyCar days. I raced against Roger’s (Penske) organization in ‘94 and ’95 in IndyCar. All these things helped. And yes, fighting for the win last year and being aggressive, but I think what has helped me is the fact Brad is not racing here.”
YOUR ROAD COURSE EXPERIENCE VERSUS THE BENEFIT OF A DRIVER BEING IN THE SAME CAR WITH THE SAME TEAM 34 TIMES A YEAR; DOES IT ALL EVEN OUT? “It probably does. It’s important to know the people you work with, having the chemistry going helps. We’ve done some testing, so we’ve worked together a little bit. Last year, it was the third year I was running with the same team. I kind of knew the people I was working with. That made it a lot easier. When you get to the race, everybody knows what is required. But now, it’s also a brand new car. You start from scratch, it makes it fun. But for the new rules, there’s stuff that you could do in the past that you can’t do on the cars anymore. You just have to find ways around it. Testing wise, there isn’t a track that is similar to this one. We had a good test at Road Atlanta. We understood the car quite well there. That should help here.”
YOU’RE LOVE AFFAIR WITH THIS TRACK; WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR SECRETS FOR SUCCESS HERE? “It’s been a good track. I won my first and last IndyCar race here. Last year brought down the average a lot. That was annoying. I’ve always enjoyed those kinds of tracks, whatever series – Indy or F1 – these tracks where there’s an element of danger I would say and you have to really work on where the limit is at. If you go beyond it, something not so good will happen, probably end up crashing, in the sand trap or something. I always felt good on those kinds of tracks. The thing is, the laps are normally long and you always have different reference points. Whatever corner you get to, the trees are different, there something that is different. You kind of know right away where you’re at. There are a lot of blind corners. You need to force yourself to have reference points that are not the race track itself. You don’t start braking because you see the corner. You break because you know exactly where you’re at on the track. It could be a little painting on the guardrail, a lot of things like that. It’s like driving on radar basically.”
BRAKE MANAGEMENT IS HUGE; WHAT CAN YOU DO INSIDE THE RACE CAR MAYBE TO MANAGE THE BRAKES AS YOU GO? “The only thing you can do is not brake as hard which means braking earlier. When you’re fighting at the front and you’re running for position, that’s not something that you can really do. I had problems here last year, but all I had to do was pump the brakes all the way down the straight to make sure the pedal was there when I hit the brakes. They were good for two or three laps, then the fronts would start going away and you would end up locking the rear. You would spend two or three laps slowing down a bit, cooling them off and then you’re aggressive again. You can figure it out while you’re driving that suddenly you’ve gone a little too far. If you react quickly enough, then you can go back on them, but if you spend the next five or six laps just hammering them, then you get to the point you just won’t recover.”
HOW MUCH ARE YOU RACING THESE DAYS? “Not as much as I would like too. Right now, I’m just doing Montreal and here. That definitely is not a lot. Every year, it’s a little bit better. I guess before I turn 80, I’ll manage to get a full season in at some point. I’ve been doing some ice racing in France, that was interesting, and a little racing in Australia. I’m trying to get my hands into as many forms of racing as I can. It’s good experience. The goal would be to do a full season in NASCAR.”
IS IT CHALLENGING WHEN YOU’RE NOT IN THE CAR EVERY WEEK? “It is challenging and puts a lot of pressure on. If you do 30 races, you can afford to have a few bad ones. If you do just a couple of races, and they’re road course and you’re a road course specialist and one of them is Montreal, you’re hometown, then you either win or finish in the top three and it’s normal, or it was a lost weekend. A lot weighs on those races, the future. Last year, the good races helped me get a ride at the Glen and at the Brickyard. A lot depends on one or two races. A lot can go wrong that you can’t control.”