1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve has set his sights on competing in a full season of NASCAR in 2023, after thoroughly enjoying his one-off appearance at this year’s Daytona 500.
The Canadian driver has spent more time as a pundit than a driver over recent years, with the 51-year-old currently part of the Canal+ team, as an analyst for their Formula 1 coverage.
Villeneuve has recently reconsidered a venture into full-time racing, with the Canadian considering not only a full-time seat in NASCAR next year but a potential bid for the elusive triple-crown.
The former Williams driver has the F1 World Championship and Indy 500 to his name, meaning he still needs to win the Le Mans 24 Hours and technically the Monaco Grand Prix (but the F1 title is close enough!).
Graham Hill is the only driver to have ever accomplished the feat; however, Fernando Alonso has gone close to matching Hill’s achievement.
Villeneuve raced for the Dutch Hezeberg team at the Daytona 500 back in February, a race he revealed was “great to participate in”.
“It was great to participate in this year’s Daytona 500,” Villeneuve told RacingNews365.com.
“It was a great weekend, with two motorhomes that my family stayed in because my two eldest sons also came to see me. It was a really cool weekend because of that.
“I drove a really good weekend and tried to help the smaller Hezeberg team by bringing two experienced guys along.
“They were Tommy Baldwin and Bill Burns, both of whom I have known for a long time. I had worked with Burns in the European NASCAR championship in which I was competing against Team Hezeberg and Loris Hezemans.”
Due to racing for a small NASCAR side compared to the likes of Penske, Villeneuve had to actually qualify for a place on the start line.
Only 40 of the 42 entries were allowed to race in the actual Daytona 500, with the Canadian staggeringly claiming the final spot in P40.
Villeneuve found the race extremely “difficult”, as a result of a “lot of technical problems” during the Canadian’s time testing the car.
“It was a difficult race in Daytona and actually we couldn’t even have qualified for the race,” he said.
“You see, we were a small team, but still we made the show and even finished the race, which was fantastic. Remarkable also because we had a lot of technical problems in the run-up, so we had little testing time.
“Fortunately, I had driven some NASCAR in the past and also at some ovals, so as a result I knew quite a few of the drivers who were racing and that helped a lot. They respected me and I respected them, so that allows you to race each other as well.”
Despite the challenge of competing in the Daytona 500, the ex-F1 driver shared some of the special moments from the “great experience”, with the Canadian having definitely caught the NASCAR bug as a result.
“It was a special event for me because just before the start Mr Ford came to say hello to me, that was special,” shared the Canadian.
“After the race, some drivers came up to me to compliment me, because nothing had gone wrong,” Villeneuve continued after his 22nd place finish.
“That was cool, because you have to earn the respect of the drivers.
“It was a great experience, but unfortunately it was just the Daytona race. I would have liked to have driven several races with the team, which was the plan, but unfortunately the team didn’t follow through.
“I was disappointed about that because I would have loved to have raced in NASCAR and moved on with the team. It is what it is and I understand that the team put all their cards on Loris Hezemans, because that was always expressed by them beforehand as well.”
Whilst he is busy with Canal+ for the remainder of 2022, it appears that the driver, who retired from F1 in 2006, is going to “go full NASCAR”.
Villeneuve loved the simplicity of the series and how the cars were fixed, after explaining how he “loved” that a hammer was used to fix any damage.
“I definitely want to continue in NASCAR and even to do a whole season!” he said.
“At the moment, I’m busy a lot with Canal+’s TV broadcasts which takes up a lot of time, so as a result I’m not in racing cars enough at the moment. Still, the plan is to go full NASCAR.
“I have always loved NASCAR and have always loved driving on ovals, for example in IndyCar [the class in which Villeneuve won the Indy 500 and the championship in 1995].
“I like working with the engineers to make the car better, but when the starting lights go out I want to be able to go for it,” Villeneuve explained about what he likes about the Cup Series.
“When there is damage they fix it with the hammer and that’s just the kind of thing I love. It’s still in the old-fashioned way of improving the car.
“You sit down with the engineer and discuss corner by corner what you feel and what needs to be improved. I love that!” concluded the 1997 World Champion.