Sunday, November 22, 2009

XSL Speed Reporter Interview: Jacques Villeneuve

Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR

Perhaps the most accomplished Canadian race car drivers in history, Jacques Villeneuve holds an Indy 500 victory, CART/IndyCar title and a 1997 Formula One World Championship. An image of his father 1970-early 1980s Formula 1 legend Gilles Villeneuve, Jacques' driving style exhibited the same hungry aggression. The young Villeneuve was undoubtedly a benefactor of top flight racing outfits of the day, his name adorned the carbon fiber roll hoops of Players Racing machines in IndyCar and the leading Formula 1 operations of Williams F1 between 1996-1998.

With the 1997 Formula 1 World Championship serving as a highlight to any open wheel driver's career, the title seemingly brought a downturn to Jacques Villeneuve's career. Haunted in his 1998 F1 title defense by an uncompetitive Williams race car, continuing years with the than new BAR team (currently Mercedes Grand Prix) were not the rides Villeneuve had grown accustomed to in his earlier seasons. When BAR-Honda unceremoniously cut Villeneuve in the final races of 2003, Villeneuve went on to spend two seasons at BMW-Sauber enjoying limited success.

In late 2007, Jacques Villeneuve became one of many open wheel drivers who saw NASCAR as a chance to stay within the same continent as his home. While a full-time campaign was planned in 2008 with Bill Davis Racing, financiers backed out of a sponsorship deal leaving Villeneuve on the sidelines.

For 2009, Jacques Villeneuve received his annual invite to Montreal's NASCAR Nationwide Series event at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Again driving for the capture Braun Racing in the #32 Dollar General Toyota, it's needless to say the only Canadian visit with NASCAR's second-best division is eagerly awaited by Villeneuve.

Within the important late August weekend, I was granted an opportunity to have Jacques Villeneuve answer some of my questions on his racing career. Please enjoy the results from this brief interaction in the following Q &A:

Question: Endeavouring into music, a fine dining restaurant, and most significantly into becoming a father, do you look at your auto racing career in a different light than compared to 10 years ago?

Answer: I was born into racing and it is in my blood. I have been blessed in and lucky to live many different experiences outside of racing (most of it thanks to racing). I have always be passionate about music and will stay involved but it comes after racing.
My 2 kids have become my priority and somehow they make me want to race even more and harder. They remind me of growing up admiring my dad and of the great childhood I had.

Q: While being one of more decorated open wheel drivers to attempt a transition to stock car racing, what attracted you to pursue a career in NASCAR?

A: There are 2 great series in the world: F1 and NASCAR and both are are the opposite ends of the spectrum. NASCAR is amazingly challenging. I always enjoyed oval racing from my IndyCar days and winning the Indy 500 in 95 got me into F1.

Q: Without the resources of the Players' Driver Development program which had fostered outstanding Canadian driving talent including yourself and others, do you believe the crop of future drivers face an even tougher road into professional racing?

A: There are many driver development programs out there. Some of it is luck or timing and allot is about going to get what you want. It takes hard work and always has. Times change, but there are always opportunities for those who work hard for it.

Q: With major open wheel racing in North America reformed under a single sanctioning body for the first time since you won the Indy 500 and overall series championship in 1995, would you consider a return to IndyCar racing? Even if only for the Canadian leg?

A: IndyCar is still damaged and not what it used to be. The healing process hopefully has started as it was a great series that opened doors to F1 to a few drivers.

Q: There have been reports that you're expressing interest for rejoining Formula 1 next year. Is this option a serious possibility? Is the rule changes in the series provoking a return?

A: The priority right now obviously is F1 and NASCAR but I would not be against a return to IndyCar in the right conditions. I just love racing.

Q: Having driven cars in almost every form of motorsports, what type of auto racing brings you the most sense of thrill?

A: Really all racing is fun, even did some front wheel drive touring car at Spa and its still exciting. The different dynamics make it both challenging to drive and to read the handling to make it better. But ultimately nothing compares to the sheer cornering speed of an F1.

Jacques conversing with Boris Said
during the 2009 NASCAR weekend
in Montreal.
Photo Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images

Q: Taking into account the magnitude of racing on a famous course named after your father, driving for Braun Racing to a top finish in this year's NAPA Auto Parts 200 was a definite crowd pleaser. How much does it mean to you and your team to finish well in the Nationwide race? Would it be more important professionally or personally

A: Montreal is an extremely important race whatever series I race it in. It is my backyard. The expectations are high having raced on it 12 times. It is difficult to quantify the professional importance of a road course in NASCAR as there are only 2 non-oval races a season but a good result would definitely be a step in the right direction. Ultimately what is needed to move forward in NASCAR is good oval results.

Since conducting the interview, The 2009 running of the Napa Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to palce amounted to a thrilling affair to the Canadian crowd. Besides the last lap pass Carl Edwards used to win the race, Jacques Villenueve delivered an impressive 4th place finish in the NASCAR Nationwide Series main event. Driving the #32 Toyota brilliantly all weekend, the French-Canadian driver proud performance deserves a real chance to show his stock car abilities at the highest NASCAR levels.

Opened to the notion of future tours in NASCAR, Speculation since the interview has Villeneuve seriously interested in rejoining the F1 circuit. With the addition of several new formula one teams to the 2010 grand prix grid, Jacques Villeneuve's name has been connected to USF1 as well as the Lotus F1 Team.

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