Villeneuve back at Indy after 19-year absence

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 23, 2014 at 4:58 pm •  Published: May 23, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The orange and brown glasses slide down the bridge of Jacques Villeneuve's nose. Along with the graying hair and growing bald spot, they give the Canadian driver a professorial vibe.

It's only reinforced when he begins to speak.

In clear, crisp sentences spiced by that unmistakable French-Canadian accent, Villeneuve lays out his opinion on just about anything — especially when it comes to the Indy 500. He will talk about the latest generation of cars, lament the fact there is only one chassis manufacturer, and argue that spotters who are supposed to make the race safer have often had the opposite effect.

Then he'll talk about the speed and the danger.

"Some younger drivers didn't grow up seeing racing as being dangerous," said Villeneuve, who is back at the Indianapolis 500 after a 19-year absence. "They break their little finger and they are surprised. It's like, 'Be happy it's only that.'"

Of course, Villeneuve forgets many of those younger drivers grew up watching him.

James Hinchcliffe, a fellow Canadian, said his earliest memory of watching a race was 1995, when Villeneuve took advantage of a late penalty on Scott Goodyear to win the Indy 500. That was also the last time Villeneuve stepped into an Indy car at the iconic racetrack.

At least, it was until this year.

"It's cool to have him back," Hinchcliffe said, "because he's obviously one of the guys I looked up to as a young driver, and one of the guys I never thought I'd have a chance to race."

Villeneuve spent nearly two decades driving just about everything but an IndyCar. He won a Formula One title, tried his hand at NASCAR and drove at Le Mans. He dabbled in RallyCross and even raced V8 Supercars around the street circuits of Australia.

But the lure of Indy started to tug him back.

Villeneuve, who will start 27th on Sunday, watched with rapt attention last year as Tony Kanaan took the checkered flag. He was intrigued by the record number of lead changes, the way cars moved through the field and how stiff the competition had become.

Villeneuve managed to land a ride with team owners Sam Schmidt and Rick Peterson, and will be part of a stable that includes Mikhail Aleshin and Simon Pagenaud on Sunday.

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