Las Vegas: Jacques Villeneuve debut preview




* Jacques Villeneuve will attempt to qualify for his first-ever NASCAR race--the Smith's Las Vegas 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway--in the #27 Bill Davis Racing Toyota Tundra; the 36-year old Villeneuve, who began his decorated global racing career 22 years ago in 100cc kart racing, has never witnessed a live NASCAR race.

* Villeneuve joins Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi as the only drivers in motorsports history to win the World Driving Championship (F1), the Indianapolis 500 and the CART IndyCar World Series championships.

* One of only 28 drivers to win the World Driving Championship since F1's inception in 1950, Villeneuve is one of only 18 living F1 champions; he won the F1 title in 1997 at age 26 in only his second season with the fabled Williams team after finishing second to teammate Damon Hill for racing's highest honor in his inaugural F1 season.

* Villeneuve won 11 times, earned 13 pole positions and 23 podium finishes (in 165 races) in F1 competition for Williams, British American Racing, Renault, Sauber and BMW Sauber before departing F1 in 2006 to begin his NASCAR career.

* Villeneuve won the 1995 Indianapolis 500 enroute to his CART series championship in only his second season with the Team Green, after a runner-up finish in the Indy 500 in his rookie CART season (1994) to Al Unser, Jr. He was the youngest driver (24) to win both the Indy 500 and CART championships. He was also the final CART IndyCar World Series champion before the discipline split into the Indy Racing League and ChampCar World Series in 1996.

* Villeneuve won five times and earned six pole positions in 33 CART races in 1994-95, finishing in the top-five in nine of his 17 starts during his championship season. He finished sixth in the final point standings during his rookie CART season.

* One of Canada's most popular sports figures, Villeneuve carries the country's most storied motorsports pedigree. His father Gilles was a charismatic rising F1 star, winning six times in 68 starts primarily for Ferrari and finishing second (by four points) for the World Championship to teammate Jody Scheckter in 1979, his second full F1 season. He was killed at age 32 in a qualifying accident prior to the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix and his premature loss shook the entire motorsports world. Uncle Jacques Villeneuve, Sr. enjoyed a broad motorsports career and was the first Canadian to win a CART series race--at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI in 1985.

* Villeneuve will bring the #27 to his NASCAR competition, a number as iconic for his family and to global motorsports fans as the #3 is to the Earnhardt/NASCAR legacy in the United States; his father Gilles carried the number throughout much of his primary racing career (including his time at Ferrari) and Jacques raced with the #27 during his two CART series seasons with Forsythe-Green/Team Green. He joins NASCAR greats Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker, Rusty Wallace, the late Benny Parsons and Tim Richmond, and motorsports legend A.J. Foyt and now BDR #22 crew member Tom Hubert among those who have campaigned the #27 in NASCAR competition.

* Should he qualify for the NCTS race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend, Villeneuve will become the second World Driving Champion to compete in an event in one of NASCAR's top three series (NNCS, Busch Series, NCTS); On October 29, 1967, the late Jim Clark, two-time (1963, 1965) F1 champion, finished 30th in the American 500 at North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, North Carolina, retiring his #66 Holman-Moody Ford after 144 laps due to engine failure. His Holman-Moody "teammates" ---Bobby Allison and David Pearson--finished 1-2 in the event, the 48th of 49 races during a season that would bring Richard Petty his second Grand National championship. Future F1 champ Mario Andretti (1978) ran 14 Grand National races between 1966-69 before winning his world title, including a victory in the 1967 Daytona 500.

* In the past month, Villeneuve has successfully completed five days of testing in NASCAR race vehicles--two days of NCTS testing at ChicagoLand Speedway (8/27-28), one day of Car-of-Tomorrow (COT) testing at Kentucky Speedway (9/5) and participation in NASCAR's first official superspeedway COT test at Talladega SuperSpeedway (9/10-11). Villeneuve's current NASCAR plan is to enter the final seven NCTS races of the 2007 season, plus the ARCA Series race at Talladega (10/5).

* Villeneuve was born in St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu in the Canadian province of Quebec (4/9/71) to Joann and the late Gilles Villeneuve and has two siblings, Melanie and Jessica. He joined legendary hockey player Bobby Orr and actor/comedians Jim Carrey and John Candy among 14 chosen in the inaugural group for Canada's Walk of Fame and was Canada's Athlete of The Year in both 1995 and 1997. Villeneuve was made an Officer of the National Order of Quebec in 1998. He lives with wife Johanna and son Jules in Switzerland and Montreal, where he owns a restaurant/nightclub (Newtown) in one of the city's trendiest areas for nightlife.

* Villeneuve began his racing odyssey in 100cc karts in Italy (1985) and advanced through Italian Formula-Three (1989-91) to Japanese Formula-Three (1992-second for the championship), where he met long-time manager and business partner Craig Pollock. The latter helped position Villeneuve in the North American Toyota Atlantic Series for 1993, where he won five races and seven pole positions and earned a seat with Forsythe-Green for the 1994 CART season.

* The BDR Toyota Tundra that Villeneuve will drive in the Smith's Las Vegas 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is Chassis #42, previously raced in NCTS events (Ryan Mathews) at Dover (6/1--ST-31, FN-15); Michigan (6/16--ST- 15, FN-16); Kentucky (7/14--ST-1, FN 4) and Nashville (8/11--ST-17, FN-16).


Q. Have you ever raced at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? And do you think you might contact Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani and maybe get some tips?

JV: I've not raced there. I've raced on a few ovals, but there was no race there when I was racing in North America. I've completed five days of testing so far in NASCAR vehicles, two days at Chicago in the truck, one day at Kentucky on the Car-of-Tomorrow car and two days of drafting and testing in the COT at Talladega. The truck was much more comfortable to drive than the COT, but I think that has been the common thought with the drivers more familiar with them than I am. Our goal when we started this program with Bill Davis Racing was to just get comfortable in the cars and trucks, and get in as many miles as possible, but testing can also be tedious. I'm excited to finally get back to racing.

Q. To some people, this is a surprise that you are coming to NASCAR. But I would suggest that you have been thinking about this for several years. When was the first time that you actually looked across the ocean, saw NASCAR and said, you know, that's something that I want to do?

JV: A few years ago was the first time. I think it was 2004 when I took a year off from Formula 1. But at the time I knew I wanted to go back to F1. So I didn't look at it that seriously. I just waited until I got out of F1 last year. And I needed to do something in racing that was at an extremely high level, which NASCAR is, but something different. And I was missing the ovals also, so it sounded like a great challenge. I really wanted to get into it.

Q. Could you give me your take on why there seems to be a sudden migration of so many open wheeled drivers like yourself to the NASCAR series?

JV: Well, I think because NASCAR is becoming stronger and stronger every year. So it's getting everybody's attention even internationally. So I think that's what it comes down to. But a lot of people in Europe don't know what oval racing is all about so they will find out.

Q. I guess you've been following somewhat Juan Pablo's progress through this and some of the veteran NASCAR drivers complaining about his very aggressive style. Do you look at that and say, well, if they think Juan Pablo's aggressive, I'm going to face the same issues when you get in?

JV: Apparently no matter what you're driving nobody likes the new boy. Any time anybody got into F1, we didn't like it, and we made their life hard. So that's a little bit natural. But he was like that in Formula 1, extremely aggressive and got on people's nerves. I guess he kept the same personality going into NASCAR, which once he settles in, it will be all right. He's driving hard, he's fast, and he's making a name for himself. Now he's earning respect, so that's fine. But I've never been as aggressive as him, I would say. But at the same time, NASCAR is a different ball game. So if and when I get in there, I'll figure it out.

Q. We've talked to Juan a little bit about you, and he's very excited you're coming. He says he'll help you in any way that he can. But I remember back to when he first got into Formula 1, you and he didn't always get along. Where did it sort of shift and what changed in your relationship?

JV: Well, we had a hard time, I would say early in our careers, then we mellowed down. But off the track, outside of the car, we always got along. Just there were a few high-spirited moments in car on the track. You know, when everybody's a little bit on the limit and got the pressure and everything, I guess you tend to blow up a little bit easier, and I think that's what happened between us on a few races, that's all.

Q. Could you tell me as accurately as possible how you felt in the truck in your test at ChicagoLand?

JV: Yeah, we made some positive steps between Day 1 and Day 2, and just it felt more natural on the second day. I was more comfortable sitting in the truck and going into the corners on the second day and knowing what to expect when I turn the wheel and how much to turn it and so on. That makes the driving easier, so I can get the lap time in the first two laps instead of waiting for the fourth lap.

Q. Again, in Formula 1 you certainly were very well known to speak your mind no matter what, and no matter how much trouble it might have gotten you into with the FIA. Do you see people who say what's on their mind and say, well, maybe I'm coming into a land of free speech? Maybe there are penalties for it, but do you enjoy seeing that your kind of outspokenness is already somewhat commonplace in NASCAR?

JV: Yeah, I think it's a great thing. I think it shows it's still human and down to earth. It's not robots driving, it's human beings with feelings and they say what's on their minds. So I guess I won't be lost in that. I won't have to change to carry on like that.

Q. I'm curious, you said F1 fans don't really know what oval racing is all about and the appeal and maybe why we're so mad for it. How would you sum it up for folks, maybe, who don't get why we love it?

JV: Oh, it's really hard to explain for the European fans, because in their mind it's only two corners and it looks like it's easy driving and flat out and that's it. What they don't realize is there is a lot of fine tuning to do on the car to gain that extra stability in the car. And also driving in traffic, and all that happens during a race, it happens on the track. A lot more than in open wheel racing like in Europe, where a lot of it happens in the start and that's about it. So it's just a different type of racing. I guess unless, and just watching it on TV won't give you the whole picture. I guess you just have to come to a race and feel the atmosphere to get it.

Q. How fast did this come together with Bill Davis? When did you start talking to him? And when did you finally reach a deal? And the second question, as a Quebec driver, is it possible that we might see some Quebec companies that are already peripherally exposed to NASCAR, like Bouchard and Bombardier, involved in your program?

JV: Well, it happened really fast, this contact with Bill Davis Racing. From then on, everybody seemed to be excited and open minded and wanted to give it a go. So it happened really fast. Just had to fly in, make a seat and come testing. For the second part of the question, it would make sense to get some Quebec or Canadian companies involved in the program. But we're just working hard on that.

Q. Why Bill Davis Racing? They're not one of the higher echelon teams. And what do you think now is the -- can you give a percentage on the probability that the deal will come together and you will be in Cup next year?

JV: Why Bill Davis Racing? Well, you have to look at the truck racing. They're leading the championship and doing really well. So that is the best place to start to get mileage, and to get used to running at those speeds in traffic. If you look at the Nextel cars, they're going better every race, they move up, and it's better than a team that's going to move down.

Q. When you were looking to come back to North America, was NASCAR the only series that you looked at? Or did you look at the other two series, especially IRL, considering you wanted to run ovals?

JV: No, I didn't look at IRL. NASCAR, I only concentrated on NASCAR. You know, after Formula 1, when you want to carry on racing, you want it to be at a tough level. And in North America, the top level is NASCAR.

Q. We all know that you beat Michael Schumacher for the F1 in '07. With that in mind is the thought of competing in NASCAR at all intimidating to you?

JV: Well the good thing is I've already raced on ovals in a speed race in IndyCar years ago. So I know what oval is all about, and what, you know, the dangers of ovals as well. So it's not something that can be a surprise. So I've already had a few crashes on ovals, so I kind of know what to expect. But it's true, when I was talking with other European drivers in F1, they were dumfounded when I was telling them about ovals. They were would call me mad wanting to drive ovals.

Q. I would certainly never suggest that there's no politics in NASCAR. But I would assume it pales greatly to what you experience in Formula 1. And that is something that Montoya talks a lot about. He just got tired of all the B.S. and wanted to get back to racing. Does that at all, do you agree with any of that?

JV: I don't know how it is in NASCAR yet, but I'm sure there's politics everywhere. But it was hard to beat the high level of politics of Formula 1. It is true that it's extremely high, and most of the time it overshadows the sport. This is a shame as a racer. As long as you're winning, it's great. But as soon as you're not winning, then the politics take over, and it does make racing not fun at all. So listening to what Juan Pablo is saying, it sounds like NASCAR is where racing should be.

-credit: bdr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Rusty Wallace , Michael Schumacher , Jacques Villeneuve , Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani , Tom Hubert , Mario Andretti , Jim Clark , Al Unser Sr. , Damon Hill , Gilles Villeneuve , Emerson Fittipaldi , Benny Parsons , Junior Johnson , Bobby Allison , Jody Scheckter , Buddy Baker , A.J. Foyt , Cale Yarborough , Tim Richmond , David Pearson , Ryan Mathews
Teams Sauber , Williams , Bill Davis Racing