After climbing up the ranks of open-wheel feeder series around the world, Jacques moved up to Indy in 1994, winning his first race that season then winning the championship as well as the Indianapolis 500 the following year. He didn't stick around the Indy circuit long after that, following his father's footsteps into F1 the next season, winning four grands prix and the title the year after that. But now, after trying his hand at just about everything else, JV is returning to Indy.
In a deal just announced, Villeneuve is set to compete in the Indianapolis 500 this year with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The team run by quadriplegic former race winner Sam Schmidt, former Indy driver Davey Hamilton and former Atlantic series champion chief Ric Peterson won two rounds last year (the street races at Belle Isle and Baltimore) with Simon Pagenaud behind the wheel.
This will mark the first time he'll compete in open wheels since leaving Sauber in 2006 (discounting the exhibition event pictured above where he drove his dad's Ferrari) and the first time he'll drive an IndyCar since winning the title 19 years ago. The last time he drove at Indy was in the Brickyard 400 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2010, finishing in 29th place. Having also driven in the United States Grand Prix five times, Villeneuve stands alongside JP Montoya as one of just two drivers to compete in all three major racing series at IMS.
JV is rumored to be bringing big sponsorship cash with him to Schmidt, and some star power to the grid which race organizers are desperately trying to fill. He'll have to juggle his drive in the new FIA World Rallycross Championship, however, to make it happen. Read the full press release below and visit the team's website for all the details.
Canadian Champion To Make First Indy Car Start Since 1995 Victory At Indianapolis
INDIANAPOLIS (Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014) -- Former Indy car and Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve will compete in the 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in a car prepared by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, his first participation in "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" since winning the event in 1995. Jacques Villeneuve
Villeneuve's entry in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 marks the 20th anniversary of his first start in 1994, in which the French-Canadian driver finished second and claimed Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors. Villeneuve, 42, won the race and the CART season championship the following year.
"To have the opportunity to return to Indy car racing and the Indianapolis 500 is something I never thought possible," Villeneuve said. "The memories I have there will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I'm excited to create new memories in 2014."
Following his CART championship, Villeneuve jumped to Formula One in 1996, winning 11 of his first 34 grands prix and the Drivers' World Championship for Williams in 1997. He remained a Formula One regular with BAR, Renault and Sauber before switching to NASCAR in 2007.
Villeneuve has competed in selected Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series events as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He is one of two drivers to compete in IndyCar, NASCAR Sprint Cup and Formula One cars at Indianapolis. The other is 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, who is returning to the IndyCar Series in 2014 as a full-time driver with Team Penske.
"I've been fortunate enough to compete in several of the world's top racing series, and nothing excites me more than entering the IndyCar Series at its current level of competitiveness," Villeneuve said. "Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has proven itself able to compete with the largest of teams, and I am excited to get to work with Sam and the team and start preparing for May."
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, led by team principal Sam Schmidt and businessman Ric Peterson, is entering its third year of competition in the IndyCar Series. In its first season as a one-car operation with Simon Pagenaud in 2012, the team quickly made its mark as Pagenaud claimed the Rookie of the Year title and placed fifth in the series championship.
Following Peterson's addition to ownership in 2013, the team expanded to two cars, again capturing Rookie of the Year honors with 2012 Firestone Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier and gathering two wins and third place in the series championship with Pagenaud.
"We're very pleased to have a driver of the caliber of Jacques in our lineup in May," Schmidt said. "He's a former winner in the event and brings tremendous experience from his success in the world's top racing series. The trust Jacques is putting in Schmidt Peterson Motorsports also validates the progress all of our team members have made in creating an organization capable of competing with anyone."
Said Peterson: "Having grown up in Canada, the name Villeneuve is synonymous with winning. I was even there in person when he won the Indy 500 in 1995, and Jacques being the only Canadian to win that huge event, it gave me a huge sense of national pride. It is an honor to have the opportunity to be involved in bringing Jacques back to the '500,' and we look forward to a fantastic result."
Villeneuve's victory in 1995 at Indianapolis came after a stirring drive. He was two laps down midway through the 500-Mile Race, but rallied to win by 2.481 seconds in a Team Green entry.
"This May is shaping up to be unbelievably exciting, so the return of Jacques Villeneuve to the Indy 500 couldn't be better timed," said Mark Miles, CEO, Hulman & Company. "Race fans from around the world will be dialed in to see a champion return to the track. We can't wait to welcome him back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway."