Ford Performance NASCAR: Jacques Villeneuve Qualifies for Daytona 500

acques Villeneuve, driver of the No. 27 Hezeberg Engineering Systems Ford Mustang, has won the 1995 Indianapolis 500 and 1997 Formula 1 World Championship, and on Sunday he’ll have the opportunity to claim the Daytona 500 after clinching a spot in the field with his qualifying run tonight.  He spoke about the opportunity that lies ahead to members of the media.


JACQUES VILLENEUVE, No. 27 Hezeberg Engineering Systems Ford Mustang WEREN’T YOU WORRIED YOU WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO GET IN?  “I was convinced we didn’t have the speed to get in on time, and I thought we would then have to fight it through the Duels.  Somehow today the car was a lot easier to drive.  It was easy to be smooth because we got in by not a lot.  It was very, very close.  It was all a matter of getting right up to speed coming out of turn two, going through the gears, getting away from the wall to not block the air, just getting these extra few revs and that made the difference.”


WHERE DOES THIS RANK IN YOUR CAREER?  “Super high.  Obviously, it’s not a win.  It’s not like winning the Indy 500 or the F1 championship, but at this point in my career the last time I tried to qualify here was 14 years ago, just to make the show is incredible because it’s a small team.  We didn’t link up with a big team to get the car ready and it’s highly unexpected to be able to make it on time, so it ranks right after these big wins.,”


HOW MUCH IS IT A FEELING OF ‘I’VE STILL GOT THIS?’  – “That’s always amazing.  I got this last year because I won the last race in the Euro NASCAR and on the podium there were 20-year-olds and then they look at you and you can see that they’re confused.  To be able to make such a big race at such a high level is amazing and when I’m in the race car I don’t realize that I’m 50, which is good.  As long as it carries on like this, I can’t imagine myself stopping racing.”


WHAT WAS THE MOOD OF YOUR TEAM AFTER QUALIFYING?  “Ecstatic because all of us thought that if we had a good day, we could maybe be P4, so I have a little bit more of a chance during the Duels.  This was surprising for everyone, how well the car ran and the fact that it was easy to drive made it good as well because all yesterday it was very notchy.  The car was darting left and right and that always kills the speed a little bit and somehow today it was just really smooth to drive.”


DO YOU GET THE SENSE PEOPLE AROUND HERE KNOW WHAT YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED IN YOUR CAREER?  “Yes, I’ve always felt that whenever I’ve come to do races in NASCAR there was a lot of respect for the history and for what I’ve achieved in different categories, which has been nice.  The welcoming has been very positive.”


HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO YOU TO SHOW THAT YOU WEREN’T ONLY THE BEST AT YOUR STYLE OF RACING, BUT YOU’RE ALSO ONE OF THE MOST VERSATILE?  HOW IMPORTANT IS THAT TO YOU?  “It is, but it’s very old-fashioned.  When I was in F1 I didn’t think I would be able to drive anything else.  I was so focused and groomed for those kind of cars, and it’s not until I jumped into a NASCAR that I realized there was a lot of fun to be had driving something different and I’ve had a blast ever since just jumping in different kind of cars.  The most fun I’ve had racing has been in NASCAR, not qualifying because it’s hard to beat the speed that you get in Formula 1, but racing wheel-to-wheel or fender-to-fender, you can’t beat the way it goes in NASCAR.”


CAN YOU GIVE US A SENSE OF HOW THIS SERIES IS CURRENTLY VIEWED INTERNATIONALLY?  “It’s not just NASCAR it’s sports in general because you have a lot of American sports that are world championships, but they’re only in America and it’s really cut off from what’s happening in Europe.  Europe could learn a lot from the way sport is handled in America.  The show, the way it can be battled out.  It’s not like that in Europe.  You just see it in racing.  There are rules for everything and you don’t let the driver’s handling it, so it’s closer to what soccer is, I guess.  You hope you don’t get caught and if you don’t get caught, good for you, but there won’t be a payback.  I like the way it is here in North America, but what’s difficult for NASCAR in Europe is the ovals.  It’s not a European thing.  It’s very difficult to understand an oval unless you’ve grown up with it or you’ve driven it and I’ve seen that with F1 drivers.  I remember having a discussion with Romain Grossjean, who is in Indy Car now when I did the Indy again in ‘13 or 14, I don’t remember.  He looked at me and said, ‘Why would you do that race?  It’s so boring.  You just go around in circles.’  And I was trying to explain to him how difficult it was to drive and get in the groove, drive with the traffic and finally he got in Indy Car and went to an oval and said, ‘Oops, yeah, you were right.  This is quite special.’  It is amazing, but you can’t tell that story on TV.  Unless you’ve grown up with it, you just don’t get it.”


WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO NAME YOUR FIFTH CHILD AFTER YOUR FATHER?  “Maybe by the time I was 50 I was ready.  Already my fourth child is called Henri, which is my father’s middle name, so it was a step.  It took a while to get to that point because he wasn’t a very present father.  It was different days back then, so I guess I had a lot to digest and at this point in my life I was ready to do that and it felt right.”


IS THERE A CONCERN IT’S A LITTLE BIT HEAVY TO PUT ON A CHILD YOUR FATHER’S NAME?  “It could be.  Whenever you try to give your kids the best package they can and sometimes it can be tough, but then it’s their life to lead.  You can’t just do things every time thinking, ‘Oh no, this will be too hard for him.  I’ll just make it nice and easy.  I’ll just put him on a cushion.’  I didn’t grow up like this and it turned out well.  Other kids in my situation would have turned out wrong.  You just never know, so you do the best you can.  Yes, if he decides to go into racing, it could be a heavy weight to carry, but I don’t have any of my kids that have been interested in racing – maybe the fourth one a little bit – but not that much.  They did not grow up seeing me racing, so maybe they didn’t get the bug.”


HOW PERSONALLY SATISFYING IS THIS FOR YOU?  “It’s amazing.  It’s satisfying and amazing because there’s quite a few times where I’ve been hearing, ‘OK, come on.  You’ve passed it.  Just give it up,’ and, no, the hunger has never stopped and experience is only a big help until the day where I guess you start getting your foot off the throttle because you get a little bit scared or you don’t get that adrenaline rush anymore as a positive thing, but start getting it as a negative that’s when you should stop, but until that moment experience is only a benefit.”


WHAT WOULD YOUR FATHER THINK OF YOU AS A STOCK CAR DRIVER?  “I think he’d be jealous by now.  I don’t know.  What I know of him a lot of it is probably my imagination because there’s no way you know your dad when you’re 9 or 10, or it’s what I’ve heard from people was also being romanticized, so I really don’t know what he would have thought.  I heard that he was wanting us to race together in Le Mans, for example, but then how would he have reacted to being beaten? (laughing)  I don’t know.  I would like to imagine it would be great, it would be father and son special moment, but we’ve seen it in other areas that sometimes the two things don’t go well together.  Jealousy starts building up, so I really don’t know.”


WHAT GOALS DO YOU SET FOR SUNDAY NOW?  “Sunday we’re racing (laughing).  We didn’t run much in the pack because our focus was trying to get in on time, and it worked out so that was the right decision to make.  Now, will anybody want to race with me or to draft with me in the race?  That will be a little bit more difficult, but what comes Sunday then there’s nothing to lose anymore.  The key is to not destroy the car tomorrow.  Tomorrow is a good time to maybe test the drafting, but we don’t have spares and half the teams don’t have spares, so I can’t imagine being as aggressive as it normally is during a Duel.”


HOW DID THIS COMPARE TO YOUR FIRST ATTEMPT ALL THOSE YEARS AGO?  “It feel better I made the show (laughing).  Fourteen years ago the old track was bumpy, crazily bumping.  When you were following cars you could see them get 20 degrees sideways just because of the bumps and the tires bending.  You didn’t understand how the cars were staying on the track.  It was tough and it was the older car.  They were very different.  Now we have a lot more downforce.  The track is a lot smoother, so it’s moved a little bit towards more what Talladega is, I guess.  It’s different to set the car up as well because of the aero platform with the diffuser and the flat bottom, which brings it closer to GT cars or even what I was used to in Formula 1 with the aero platform anyway.  I think that’s caught a few guys out.”


Ford Performance PR