Much has changed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and in the sport since 1995, when Jacques Villeneuve won the 79th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. But the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval remains the same -- challenging and fun.
It was Villeneuve's initial observation to driving on the racetrack after a 19-year absence during a special refresher program along with NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch, who will be the fourth person to attempt the "double" of competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the stock car race in Concord, N.C., on May 25.
Villeneuve recorded 83 laps in the No. 5 Dollar General-sponsored car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with a best of 217.742 mph. The first practice session for "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" is May 11, with qualifications May 17-18.
"It took a while to get there. The first few laps were surprising because it felt like I was going fast and I looked and it was 180 (mph)," said Villeneuve, of Canada. "I thought, 'There's still a long way to go,' and then 190. And another 10 laps I started getting in the rhythm, and once you start going flat all around it becomes easy. I think your brain, your vision just needs to get used to driving at speed."
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In addition to demonstrating car control, placement and consistent driving pattern, the refresher program consists of 25 laps that constitute the second and third phases of the Rookie Orientation Program at speed intervals based on track and weather conditions.
"When I came here last time, I had already driven on ovals at high speed," said Villeneuve, who was the 500 Rookie of the Year in 1994 when he finished second. "It felt crazy fast back then and it felt crazy fast today. We weren't trimmed out yet, but there was no point with the (25 mph) wind and the track was very green. At the end, we even managed to work on the mechanical set-up of the car and that made it nicer."
Following the Indy 500 victory, Villeneuve went on to claim the 1995 season championship before moving to Formula One, where he won the 1997 World Championship and a total of 11 wins in 34 starts. He's currently an F1 commentator as well as competing in World Rallycross (this weekend in Portugal).
If Villeneuve qualifies for the race, he'll set a record for the biggest gap between starts held by Cy Marshall and Roland Free between 1930 and 1947. The race marked the 50th anniversary of track ownership by the Hulman-George family.