Ecclestone “instrumental” in splitting IndyCar, says Villeneuve

1995 IndyCar champion and ’97 Formula 1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve has said that the media and fan attention that followed Nigel Mansell from Formula 1 to CART Indy car racing in 1993 “annoyed” Bernie Ecclestone.

Ecclestone “instrumental” in splitting IndyCar, says Villeneuve
Jacques Villeneuve is interviewed on the Autosport stage
Jacques Villeneuve, Venturi
Race winner Jacques Villeneuve celebrates
Jacques Villeneuve
Jacques Villeneuve
Jacques Villeneuve, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
Jacques Villeneuve, Williams FW18 Renault
Jacques Villeneuve, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

Speaking on stage at Autosport International in the Birmingham, UK, Villeneuve reminisced about his switch from Japanese Formula 3 racing to Formula Atlantic in America in 1993, and said initially he thought he might remain in U.S. open-wheel racing because it was booming.

However, he believes that Formula 1 leader Bernie Ecclestone played a role in Tony George splitting from CART Indy car to form the rival Indy Racing League. CART went bankrupt and its assets were bought by Champ Car, which finally reunified with the IRL to form IndyCar in 2008.

Villeneuve, who finished third in Atlantics in ’93, before graduating to Indy cars in ’94, and winning the Indy 500 and CART title in ’95, said: “At that point I was thinking it would be great to make it to F1, but perhaps the rest of my career would be in the States. Remember that’s when Nigel Mansell went to Indy car, and Indy car was starting to be bigger and bigger and bigger, and the viewership was starting to get super-strong.

“I guess that annoyed Bernie and I think he was very instrumental in separating IndyCar so they would have separate championships. That’s why Indy car racing died – because it was starting to damage Formula 1.

“But at that point in time in the mid-’90s, being in the States was quite good and the cars were super-quick. If you just look at the Indy 500, it was special. But obviously it would have been disappointing not to make it to Formula 1, because Formula 1 remains the specialty.”

Villeneuve admitted that the Indy 500, in which he finished second in 1994 and won in ’95, was something he only came to appreciate long afterward.

He said: “To be running at an average speed of 230mph and in traffic and in a place where you’re still allowed to risk your life, because it’s marginally safer than it was 20 years ago and have half a million people sitting in the grandstands… Back then it would be an event that lasted three weeks. You would build on it and the energy was incredible. It felt like a big gladiatorial ring from the Roman Empire.

“It was very special and it is the biggest, most important race in the world. Obviously an F1 championship is bigger, but as one single event, Indy is the biggest one.

“The Indy 500, I didn’t grow up with it; I grew up with Formula 1, so I didn’t really know what it represented. I didn’t think about it until I raced in Atlantics. To get a race where people come almost daily for three weeks, that takes a lot of passion. But when you’re in it, it’s just a race; OK, there’s a lot of people which is great, but it’s just a stepping-stone to F1.

“But when you’re out of it, you think first of all, ‘Wow, I survived it!’ which is good! Then you win it and you realize it’s still present and alive and it’s meaningful, even though that race was 22 years ago. That’s when you start to realize the meaning of what you’ve accomplished.”

Villeneuve said his victory at the Brickyard was also key in attracting Sir Frank Williams to invite him to test the Williams-Renault, which would lead to him signing for 1996.

“It all happened with winning the Indy 500,” said Villeneuve. “That was instrumental in getting me a chance to test because I guess it showed that psychologically I could handle the pressure.

“Speed-wise, you just have to find out. But the psychological aspect of a driver is very hard to understand because F1 is such a beast. You could be the best Formula 3 driver, best GP3 driver, best GP2 driver and in F1 you won’t cut it.

“Many drivers were heroes who won everything from karting to whatever formulas they did, and the day they get into F1 – useless! On the contrary, other drivers who were average, somehow in F1 they exploded, became amazing.

“That’s all about psychological make-up. And the Indy 500 is a good show of that, and I think that helped Frank [Williams] to take a risk on me.”

shares
comments
Chevrolet happy with IndyCar’s technical direction

Previous article

Chevrolet happy with IndyCar’s technical direction

Next article

Pigot confirmed at Ed Carpenter Racing

Pigot confirmed at Ed Carpenter Racing
Load comments
Remembering Dan Wheldon and his last and most amazing win Prime

Remembering Dan Wheldon and his last and most amazing win

Saturday, Oct. 16th, marks the 10th anniversary Dan Wheldon’s death. David Malsher-Lopez pays tribute, then asks Wheldon’s race engineer from 2011, Todd Malloy, to recall that magical second victory at the Indianapolis 500.

IndyCar
Oct 16, 2021
Have Harvey and RLL formed IndyCar’s next winning match-up? Prime

Have Harvey and RLL formed IndyCar’s next winning match-up?

Jack Harvey’s move to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing sparked plenty of debate, but their combined strength could prove golden, says David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Oct 15, 2021
Why Kyle Kirkwood is America's new IndyCar ace-in-waiting Prime

Why Kyle Kirkwood is America's new IndyCar ace-in-waiting

Kyle Kirkwood, the record-setting junior formula driver, sealed the Indy Lights championship last weekend. But despite an absurdly strong résumé and scholarship money, his next move is far from clear. By David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Oct 6, 2021
2021 IndyCar title is just the start for Ganassi's newest star Prime

2021 IndyCar title is just the start for Ganassi's newest star

Alex Palou has captured Chip Ganassi Racing's 14th IndyCar drivers' championship, and in truly stellar manner. David Malsher-Lopez explains what made the Palou-Ganassi combo so potent so soon.

IndyCar
Sep 28, 2021
Why Grosjean's oval commitment shows he's serious about IndyCar Prime

Why Grosjean's oval commitment shows he's serious about IndyCar

One of motorsport’s worst-kept secrets now out in the open, and Romain Grosjean has been confirmed as an Andretti Autosport IndyCar driver in 2022. It marks a remarkable turnaround after the abrupt end to his Formula 1 career, and is a firm indication of his commitment to challenge for the IndyCar Series title  

IndyCar
Sep 24, 2021
IndyCar’s longest silly-season is still at fever pitch Prime

IndyCar’s longest silly-season is still at fever pitch

The 2021 IndyCar silly season is one of the silliest of all, but it’s satisfying to see so many talented drivers in play – including Callum Ilott. David Malsher-Lopez reports.

IndyCar
Sep 11, 2021
IndyCar young guns are great, but the elders aren’t done yet Prime

IndyCar young guns are great, but the elders aren’t done yet

The ace 20-somethings in IndyCar have risen to become title contenders, but the best of the series veterans are digging deep and responding – and will continue to do so over the next couple of years, says David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Aug 20, 2021
The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career Prime

The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career

Emerson Fittipaldi’s decision to go racing with his brother led to him falling out of F1, but he bloomed again on the IndyCar scene. NIGEL ROEBUCK considers a career of two halves

Formula 1
Jul 31, 2021