Villeneuve to race in World Rallycross

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We are going to see a sideways Villeneuve again!

In a typically maverick move, Jacques will race in the FIA World Rallycross Championship. The Indy 500 winner, Indycar champion and Formula 1 World Champion has signed up to drive a Peugeot 208 for Albatec Racing in what is a real coup for this hugely popular series.

When I spoke to JV this week he was very upbeat, clearly highly motivated by the chance of another World Championship. “This is an opportunity just too good to miss,” he told me, the old fire in his voice. “The car is just so responsive, the power is amazing and – with 600bhp to play with – who wouldn’t be excited?

“We’ve had a really good test in France and I was very impressed with the team, especially on the engineering side. It reminded me of my time in Formula 1 and I’m just really excited about racing again, driving sideways, getting amongst the pack and going up against guys like Petter Solberg.”

Jacques has plenty of experience on slippery surfaces. He raced in the Andros Trophy ice racing series and spent his early teenage years on skis and snowmobiles before turning to cars.

“The last few years have been exciting, jumping into unfamiliar cars – like NASCAR, Australian V8s and Le Mans – and getting used to those cars quickly. But I never considered Rallycross, it’s a whole new world, and I love the challenge, it’s got my juices going again. I still need to win Le Mans but to get another World Championship would be very, very special and so the goal is to get to a level where I can start fighting for wins.

“The car is a little beast, it has lots of power and four wheel drive, but you get used to acceleration and speed very quickly and that gets boring very fast – you always complain you don’t have enough power. But the actual racing never gets boring and getting sideways in the pack never gets old.”

So, when he saw Kimi Rӓikkӧnen go for a new challenge with Citroën, did he ever consider the World Rally Championship?

“No, not at all. The one thing that kept me away from that is having a passenger and the responsibility you have for him. I am a risk taker, I put my own life on the line and I wouldn’t be comfortable having the passenger’s life on the line as well. It’s been tough being away from top line racing – racing is in my blood, since I was five years old I knew I would race, and it’s never left my pulse.

“I tried hard to get into NASCAR, but it’s tough to get the door open, even if you do a few good races you’re not from the oval breed you know? And you’re never properly prepared, jumping into different cars, so that was frustrating.”

A return to Formula 1? Was that ever on the cards? He was adored for his maverick approach.

“Ah, well, it’s very regimented and corporate, but if I had come back I’d still be who I am. Maybe there’s more room for a maverick now because nobody else is…”

Jacques Villeneuve’s career highlights
Second in 1992 Japanese F3
Third in 1993 Formula Atlantic
Winner of 1995 Indianapolis 500
Winner of 1995 IndyCar World Series
1997 Formula 1 World Champion
Winner of 2008 Spa 1000km
Second at 2008 Le Mans 24 Hours

So, how is Jacques preparing for the first round of the World Rallycross Championship at Montalegre in Portugal on May 3-4?

“Nobody can teach you in racing. You do some testing, get used to the speed, but the speed is not the issue – driving in the pack is where you can learn from the other guys like Solberg. If I learn from them – and mix it with what I already know – then hopefully that mix will be explosive…

“There’s a race at Trois-Rivières in Quebec in August which will be great fun because that’s where my dad beat James Hunt in Formula Atlantic and got his place in Formula 1. And my Formula Atlantic races there got me into Indycar so it’s a very special place for me – and it’s a NASCAR race weekend too, so it’ll be a huge thing for the fans.

“This new championship is such a great challenge for me, I love learning, and I’m thinking – how can I go faster than the other guys, how can I make the car go quicker? I love this feeling. And, you know, rallycross is not for the faint of heart, nobody is shy in there. I love this level of adrenalin.”

There’s no doubt that JV will be a tremendous boost to this fast-growing new FIA World Championship. He will be quick, for sure, so if you want to see a sideways Villeneuve on the gravel, and over the jumps, get yourself down to Lydden Hill on May 24-25.

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