US GP Villeneuve hungry for victory again at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2000 -- Jacques Villeneuve is a hungry man. But he isn’t searching for the McDonald’s nearest to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He’s hungry for victory. Between 1993 and 1997, ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2000 -- Jacques Villeneuve is a hungry man. But he isn’t searching for the McDonald’s nearest to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He’s hungry for victory. Between 1993 and 1997, Villeneuve won 21 races as he advanced from Formula Atlantic rookie of the year, to Indianapolis 500 champion, to Formula One champion. It was a stretch where he became considered as possibly the best race driver in the world. Then as quickly as he reached the summit in auto racing, he slid backward - two thirds in 1998, no points in 1999 and three fourths and a fifth in 2000. He drove for Williams from 1996 through ’98, then moved on to the British American Racing team. A victory Sunday in the inaugural Formula One SAP United States Grand Prix at the Speedway would help sate his appetite. At the Speedway, he achieved worldwide acclaim for his Indianapolis 500 victory in 1995, and no one but him can become the first and only winner of an Indy car and a Formula One car race on this historic race track. “I guess it depends on how hungry you are,” Villeneuve said about what it takes to rebound from adversity. “If you’re still hungry for winning, then you’ll just work as hard as you can to get there. If you’ve won the championship and you’re not hungry anymore, you haven’t had a winning car, and you just push enough to win again or else you give up. “I’m still very hungry. I haven’t given up. I’ve probably driven the hardest I’ve ever driven the last two years, even harder than for winning the championship. I believe my skills have improved the last two years. Once we get the winning car, it’s going to be very useful.” The French-Canadian sees improvement in the Lucky Strike Racing-sponsored team and has signed a contract for the next three years. He said it wasn’t an easy decision, but feels he has spent so much energy in the past two years as the team evolved that it was worth the gamble to be part of its potential success in the future. What he needs is another checkered flag at Indy. He admits his car isn’t ready to challenge Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher yet, but that just returning to Indianapolis has his emotional motor revving. “Our chances of being that competitive this weekend are slimmer than they were in ’95,” he said. “But we’re still going to give it a shot. You don’t get into anything without trying, and we will want to do good and we’ll just try as hard as we can.” Winning at Indy made him a special driver. It put him on the straightaway to Formula One. “It’s not the race itself, it’s all the pressure that it puts on you and the importance it puts on the teams, from the sponsors of that race, and the one thing you hear is that one race, how important it is and so on,” he said about the Indianapolis 500. “So when you get there and then you win it, the feeling is great.” Villeneuve’s two years at Indy also included a second-place finish in 1994 and the Bank One Rookie of the Year Award. “The other reason why it felt special to me is the way we won it,” Villeneuve said. “Having lost two laps at the beginning of the race, I had to catch them up, and that made it exciting, because normally in an oval race you spend half the race just driving around following everybody and saving the car. With being two laps down, you have to race the whole race and push for the whole time. So that made it exciting.” Villeneuve said that victory drew the attention of F1 car owner Frank Williams, who then followed him closely the rest of the season on the way to the CART championship. Williams was impressed, hired the youngster, son of former late F1 great Gilles Villeneuve, and in 1997 Jacques won the World Championship. He won seven races and 10 poles that year. Villeneuve saw the layout of the new 2.606-mile, 13-turn road course at Indianapolis for the first time when he gazed down on at it as his airplane flew near the Speedway on its landing approach. His quick assessment was that it looked good, but there were two extremely tight corners. The interesting factor to him brought out by computer simulations was that the same lap times could be attained with cars using high downforce and low downforce. He prefers a low-downforce approach and hopes that will put him toward the front. “The thing is you only have two hours on Friday to learn the track,” he said. “When the track is new and nobody has run on it, then the asphalt has no grip. Within a few laps you destroy the tires, until rubber gets inside the asphalt. So, the thing you have to do is to drive around and not do too much setup work, because by the end of Friday the track will have changed completely.” Villeneuve doesn’t believe he has an advantage having previously driven at speed inside the walls of Turn 1 and the main straight. He said if the other drivers don’t adapt after several practice laps they shouldn’t be in Formula One. In Indy car racing, usually drivers don’t reach their optimum until they are in their 30’s. It’s different in Formula One. Villeneuve is 29 now, and, though a young man outside the sport, he’s middle-aged in it. “When you reach your 30’s in F1, you’re part of the old guys,” he said. “Once you reach your 30’s, I guess you reach a point where you’ve spent enough energy.” Jacques Villeneuve could make himself feel young again just by winning at Indy on Sunday. Then he would be the only two-time winner at the world’s most famous speedway going south and going north.

-Indianapolis Motor Speedway-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Mika Hakkinen , Jacques Villeneuve , Gilles Villeneuve , Frank Williams
Teams Williams , British American Racing