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Jacques Villeneuve

Villeneuve aiming for NASCAR but still hopes for legendary record

Jacques Villeneuve impressed at the 2022 Daytona 500 by qualifying for the prestigious NASCAR race with Hezeberg. The 1997 F1 World Champion would have liked to have driven more races for the Dutch team, but in the end that did not happen. Still, the Canadian has definitely not put racing in America out of his mind and even hopes to drive a full season in NASCAR in 2023.

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To news overview © Team Hezeberg

For a driver who has the Formula 1 World Championship and an Indy 500 win in his back pocket, there's not much else Jacques Villeneuve needs on his motorsport CV - but the 1997 champion is keen to go back full-time racing in 2023.

His chosen championship? The NASCAR Cup Series.

Making his Cup debut at the season-opening Daytona 500 earlier this year, the Canadian showed he is still fast, and hopes to have made a positive impression on potential team bosses.

RacingNews365.com exclusively spoke to the flamboyant driver at Monza and found that he has not yet put the famous 'Triple Crown' out of his mind either.

"It was great to participate in this year's Daytona 500," Villeneuve enthusiastically began his review of his stock car racing debut.

"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."

Challenges of the Daytona 500

Unlike in F1 during Villeneuve's time and in the modern era, Villeneuve's #27 machine (naturally, of course) was not guaranteed a starting spot.

The Daytona 500 is usually oversubscribed with a limit of 40 starts, but 42 drivers attempted to qualify for the race.

Big teams like Penske or Hendrick Motorsports are assured of their place through the charter system, but for small outfits like Villeneuve's Hezeberg operation, it would be a challenge.

In the end, he was one of two drivers to get in by their qualifying speed alone, starting 40th.

"It was a difficult race in Daytona and actually we couldn't even have qualified for the race," he says.

"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."

There was also a moment that Villeneuve visibly looks back on with pride.

"It was a special event for me because just before the start Mr Ford came to say hello to me, that was special."

			© Team Hezeberg
	© Team Hezeberg

Villeneuve reveals future NASCAR hopes

"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," he says.

"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."

Currently, Villeneuve is attending Grands Prix as an analyst for Canal+. As a result, the former Williams driver has little time to race himself, but in 2023 Villeneuve's life could look a lot different.

"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]."

What Villeneuve loves about NASCAR

"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!"

Despite NASCAR's unprecedented popularity in America, the class is not on the list of how racing drivers can win the legendary Triple Crown, the unofficial prestigious title in motorsport that, according to many, requires a driver to win the Indy 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix. Others class winning the F1 World Championship as taking the place of victory in Monaco.

So far, only Graham Hill has managed to take the Triple Crown. The legendary Briton not only earned the three aforementioned prizes, but also won the Monaco Grand Prix. The latter race Villeneuve never won, but already has the 1997 F1 world title and the 1995 Indy 500 victory to his name.

Triple Crown remains a goal for Villeneuve

In 2008, Villeneuve finished second with Peugeot at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, so he cannot yet call himself a Triple Crown winner.

Although it will be difficult for him to add the missing achievement to his name, he does not rule out the possibility.

"I still want to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans," the Canadian explained.

"That is still missing from my list of honours to get the Triple Crown together. That's why I would love to still drive the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but that will be difficult.

"It is difficult to get a seat because the factory teams already have whole projects ready, but of course I would love to win the Triple Crown. It is what it is and for now I am focusing on NASCAR.

"It's incredibly difficult to perform well in that class. Fans always think they are not technological cars driving there, but nothing could be further from the truth.

"Those cars are incredibly well built and it's hard to get that last bit extra out of such a car and that's exactly what I love about it."

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