Early this year Jacques Villeneuve tried to break into NASCAR with Bill Davis’s Toyota team. Jacques had a tough time and was left on the sidelines after just half a dozen races as his former manager, Craig Pollock, was unable to raise the hoped for sponsorship. In August Jacques competed in the second division NASCAR Nationwide race in Montreal and ran near the front of the rain-soaked race until crunching his car because he couldn’t see anything through his wiper-less windshield.
Villeneuve is living these days in Montreal, his hometown. At 37, he’s happily married with two young boys, aged one and two. “One of them, at least, is a future racer,” Jacques remarked, grinning.
World champion with Williams back in 1996 and CART champion and Indy 500 winner with Team Green in ‘95, Jacques’ career floundered after he made the move with manager Pollock to the new BAR team. After a short, unhappy F1 career-ending stint with BMW and doing Le Mans with Peugeot, Jacques will race in the SpeedCar series this winter and hopes to be at Daytona in February for NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500.
“I wish I was busy driving,” Villeneuve said. “I’m going to do the SpeedCar thing in the off-season, but NASCAR is the priority. That’s what I want to do.”
It’s tough to find sponsors in these difficult economic times but Villeneuve believes these very conditions will help him find a ride in NASCAR for next season.
“These are times when teams will go for known quantities rather than a young unknown,” Jacques pointed out. “They won’t take risks on young guys now. When everything was going great then you saw these stupid contracts with eighteen-year olds who hadn’t proved anything yet. But the teams had all that cash and even if the kid was not good enough they could promote it and they gained something out of it. But when everybody’s looking at tight budgets, they have to go with known quantities. That’s what I tell myself anyway.”
The competitive spirit still burns bright in Villeneuve’s heart. He’s a true sportsman who races for the love of it, not for fame or money. After our brief chat I told him I hoped to see him at Daytona in February for the 51st running of the 500.
“I hope I’ll be there!” Jacques added. “Have a good Christmas. Hope to see you down there in Florida.”