Almost twenty years after winning the Indy 500, it has been confirmed that Jacques Villeneuve will race for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at the great race.
It comes as a surprise announcement due to the Formula One champion having announced a programme in World RallyCross and the fact that he hasn’t raced an IndyCar since winning the CART series in 1995.
The first question at the IndyCar press conference was – understandably – why chose to make his return now: “There’s a few reasons. The first one, it’s also a question of opportunity. The opportunity came about with Sam Schmidt. We started talking not long ago, actually a few weeks ago. It all went fast. The discussions happened at the right time because I’d been watching the IndyCars last year, and it looked extremely exciting with the new cars, to the point where I was angry and jealous that I wasn’t racing. So that got me going again.
“I’ve been active ever since leaving IndyCar in ’95, anyway, with Formula One. I did some NASCAR racing, some other forms of racing, in Australia, different places. I just wasn’t considering going back to something I’d already done mostly because there’s been a few dark years for IndyCar.
“But the whole group behind the series have been working really hard and done a tremendous job because it’s getting back to the glory days with the races exciting and also the field of drivers is becoming more and more impressive every year again.”
Indeed it was a dream signing for Sam Schmidt who believes Villeneuve will be perfect alongside existing driver Simon Pagenaud: “It’s really a representation of the guys and how hard they’ve been working, how the program has really come along quite nicely. I think having somebody of Jacques’ caliber is an incredible statement and we’re really looking forward to it.”
It’s a known secret that Villeneuve didn’t like the old IndyCars but said he had a change of heart when he saw the DW12: “I guess it started when they started going back to road racing, going back to a mix of tracks, going back to the IndyCar that I knew basically. They saw it was time to react, and they did.
“Then came this new car, which was quite a surprise with the spoilers and everything. I was dubious until the first time I saw it racing, then I realized how amazing it was, how close the racing was, open-wheel racing that was never heard of. It wasn’t accepted anymore in modern days. That’s how racing used to be.”
It is also a special time for the Canadian with former F1 sparing partner Juan Pablo Montoya rejoining the series with Penske: “He will be competing in the whole season, fighting for the championship. It’s very, very different. He’ll be really well-prepared. You can say that he’s got a lot of oval experience now after his years in NASCAR.
I got to know him better actually the few races I did in NASCAR than F1. We didn’t get along so much in F1. The few races I did in NASCAR, he became a different person. I guess North America and pure racing suits him. He’s very talented. He’s going back there to win. He’s not going there just to have fun.”
The 2014 Indy 500 will take place on May 25th.