Villeneuve runs first `pack laps' at Talladega, finishes top Toyota in 11th In blisteringly hot conditions (203F/95C) Jacques Villeneuve took to the track in Talladega yesterday morning, to make his debut alongside the assembled NASCAR Nextel...
Villeneuve runs first `pack laps' at Talladega, finishes top Toyota in 11th
In blisteringly hot conditions (203F/95C) Jacques Villeneuve took to the track in Talladega yesterday morning, to make his debut alongside the assembled NASCAR Nextel Cup drivers. It was Villeneuve's first time to lap in a NASCAR within a large-scale pack of cars, and it was also his first visit to the demanding Talladega Superspeedway, the fastest of all the tracks on the NASCAR calendar. Coming into the day, having previously completed just 243 miles of testing in new-for-2007 `Car of Tomorrow', Villeneuve drove as many as 132 laps no other driver completed more than 100 circuits and had set the 11th fastest time of the day.
Whilst neither lap times, nor position on the timing sheet were key objectives for the day, considering that Villeneuve was joined on-track by 69 of the sport's biggest names, the former F1 World Champion's performance offered a strong illustration of how well his Bill Davis Racing NASCAR test campaign is progressing.
Behind the statistics and headlines however lay the real story. On his first lap on track in the morning session, Villeneuve's Toyota Camry, carrying his iconic number 27, encountered a problem such that he and his team decided it best to use BDR driver, Dave Blaney's spare `Cup' car, the yellow Camry number 22, for the remainder of the day. Running with an engine that was not to the latest specification, the unfazed Villeneuve set about learning how to convert consistent fast laps on an empty track as he had experienced thus far in NASCAR into regular fast laps as part of a pack formation.
In the afternoon, having quickly worked himself into a pack of seventeen cars, Villeneuve started to experience drafting NASCAR style, working most closely with current series leader and defending NEXTEL Cup Champion, Jimmie Johnson, the pair weaving their way through the pack as one, to the disbelief of those assembled trackside. Within a few laps, the 36-year old Villeneuve was at the very front of the group, from where he quickly learned how difficult it is to stay out front without the experience of knowing how to use the cars around him to his best effect.
It was during a two-car run with fan-favourite, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the afternoon session that Villeneuve set his fastest lap, recording a time of 49.278 seconds, less than half a second behind fastest man on the day, Johnny Sauter. Sauter's best time was a lap of 48.816 seconds, whilst behind Villeneuve, the next Toyota was that of David Reutimann, back in 25th position. Earnhardt Jr claimed 28th place, and was positive about his first on-track laps with Villeneuve, the only other driver that carries the `legendary son of a legendary father' label.
With a successful day's testing behind him, ahead of a second day on-track tomorrow, a noticeably relaxed Villeneuve commented, "Today has been another step forward. I have a lot to learn about drafting in this environment, but this has been a strong start. BDR gave me a good car, and they did a great job. What surprised me most was how much the other guys did to help me learn how to lap quickly in the pack. It wouldn't happen anywhere else, and I offer my thanks to each of them, particularly Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jr., and my BDR team-mate, Dave Blaney. If Dave hadn't chosen to loan me his spare car, I'd have spent much of the day watching from trackside frustrated! Looking ahead to tomorrow, I need to keep working hard. I need to keep learning, and to better understand what the meaning of the various hand signals that the drivers use (in the pack) to draft away from the others. When I've mastered that, I can hope to be much stronger."