A few minutes into his seat fitting March 20 at the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports facility in Indianapolis, Jacques Villeneuve visualized the Verizon IndyCar Series car entering Turn 1 of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"It's really exciting. This is the next step toward Indy," said the 1995 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner, who on May 17 will seek to qualify for the 98th Indianapolis 500. "It's good to be sitting in an open-wheel car again."
Villeneuve and team owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson announced the alliance for the 500 Mile Race on Feb. 21. The No. 5 Honda-powered car will complement the full-season entries of Simon Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin.
Villeneuve will participate in a refresher course on the 2.5-mile oval in late April. Opening Day of practice for the Indy 500 is May 11, with qualifications are scheduled for May 17-18. Villeneuve also is competing in the World Rallycross Championship, whose season gets underway at Montalegre in Portugal on May 3-4.
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"When we got this going there were already a lot of things in place, so it doesn't give me a lot of time to think, which is probably good," said Villeneuve, who was the 1994 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. "It doesn't give me as much time to prepare as I would have wanted. But it's still an open-wheel car with wings and the speeds are similar (to two decades ago), and there is a little less horsepower, which means there is more mechanical grip and a little less aero grip. Mechanical grip is easier to drive than aero grip so I'm not too worried.
"It's a good team and from the get-go the car should be quite stable. The good thing about Indy is there is proper time to practice."
Following his Indy 500 victory, which led to the 1995 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 Verizon 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.
Villenueve said he'll seek out pointers from Indy 500 veterans, but essentially it will be up to him to quickly find the speed.
"It's so hard for a driver to explain what he's actually doing and feeling in words that somebody would understand, so it can bring confusion," he said. "Nobody can figure it out but yourself."