Memories of competing in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race "will stay with me for the rest of my life," Jacques Villeneuve says. In May, the French Canadian driver says he's "excited to create new memories."
Two decades after earning Rookie of the Year honors with a runner-up finish and 19 years removed from his scintillating victory, Villeneuve will return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to compete in the 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on May 25 in the No. 5 Honda-powered car prepared by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
Team co-owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson made the announcement at the Indianapolis race shop, with Villeneuve joining via satellite from Andorra.
“If you have to win one race in the whole of your career, the Indy 500 is the one in any form of motorsports. To have the opportunity to return to Indy car racing and the Indianapolis 500 is something I never thought possible,” said Villeneuve, 42, whose Indianapolis 500 victory was among four that season en route to the CART championship. “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. 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.”
Opening Day on the 2.5-mile oval is May 11 -- less than 24 hours after the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the reconfigured IMS road course. Qualifications are scheduled for May 17-18.
Following his CART championship, Villeneuve found continued success in Formula One. He won 11 of his 34 races and earned the World Championship for Williams in 1997. He remained a Formula One regular with BAR, Renault and Sauber before returning to North America in 2007 to compete in stock cars. He and Juan Pablo Montoya, the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner who will contest the full IndyCar Series season for Team Penske, are the only drivers to compete in IndyCar, NASCAR Sprint Cup and Formula One cars at Indianapolis. Villeneuve last competed at the Speedway in the 2010 Brickyard 400.
Villeneuve, Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi are the only drivers to win the Indianapolis 500, the CART championship and the F1 drivers title.
Villeneuve said competing in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis is not a component of this Month of May program because of his schedule in Europe (he's an F1 commentator along with competing in World Rallycross), though a full IndyCar Series season in 2015 is a possibility.
"INDYCAR is building again and when I was watching the races last year I was almost angry that I wasn't there," he said. "It looks so much fun and exciting, and it was back to pure racing."
Simon Pagenaud, who placed third in the 2013 IndyCar Series championship, and rookie Mikhail Aleshin are the full-time drivers for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
“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.”
Villeneuve, who started in the middle of the second row in the Team Green car, was two laps down midway through the 200-lap race because of a penalty incurred for passing the pace car twice under caution. He closed strong and won by 2.481 seconds (watch the full race below). The race also was memorable to Peterson.
“Having grown up in Canada, the name Villeneuve is synonymous with winning," he said. "I was there in person 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.”
The 19 years between starts will be the most in Indianapolis 500 history. Some others:
17 -- Cy Marshall (1930-47) and Roland Free (1930-47)
16 -- Michel Jourdain Jr. (1996-2012)
14 -- Juan Pablo Montoya (2000-2014)
13 -- John Andretti (1994-2007), Roberto Moreno (1986-99)
11 -- John Boling (1920-1931)