Q and A with new NASCAR driver Jacques Villeneuve We're joined by Quebec native Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 Formula 1 World Champion, the 1995 Cart Series Champion, and the 1995 Champion of the Indianapolis 500.
Jacques will be running the final seven NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races of this season for Bill Davis Racing. That is in preparation for running in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series in 2008.
He's going to participate in all of the remaining Car of Tomorrow tests this year. And in addition, he plans to enter the ARCA Series race in October at Talladega Super Speedway.
Want to start off by just asking you what an exciting time, how exciting a time is this for you? The opportunity to follow up on all your open-wheel success and getting a chance to drive stock cars in NASCAR.
JACQUES VILLENUEVE: Well, it's very exciting because it's very different than anything I've done before. The speeds are high, and I was missing driving on ovals in Europe, so it's nice to get back into ovals.
THE MODERATOR: Absolutely. Thanks for that opener. We're ready to go to questions now from the media.
Q. Listen, to some people this is a surprise that you are coming to NASCAR. But I would suggest that you have been thinking about this for several years. When was the first time that you actually looked across the ocean, saw NASCAR and said, you know, that's something that I want to do?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: A few years ago was the first time. I think it was 2004 when I took a year off from Formula 1. But at the time I knew I wanted to go back to F1. So I didn't look at it that seriously. I just waited until I got out of F1 last year.
And I needed to do something in racing that was at an extremely high level, which NASCAR is, but something different. And I was missing the ovals also, so it sounded like a great challenge. I really wanted to get into it.
Q. Could you give me your take on why there seems to be a sudden migration of so many open wheeled drivers like yourself to the NASCAR series?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Well, I think because NASCAR is becoming stronger and stronger every year. So it's getting everybody's attention even internationally. So I think that's what it comes down to. But a lot of people in Europe don't actually know what oval racing is all about so they will find out.
Q. I guess you've been following somewhat Juan Pablo's progress through this. I don't know if you've been following the media reports of how much complaining that some of the veteran NASCAR drivers have been doing about his very aggressive style. Do you look at that and say, well, if they think Juan Pablo's aggressive, I'm going to face the same issues when you get in? Or seems like your style in Formula 1 was always more of a matter of controlled aggressiveness. Do you say well, maybe I've got to prove that my style is different. Do you think that you're going to have similar problems to him? Or when you get there that your style you're going to have to kind of live down some of the wild reputation he's developed?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Apparently no matter what you're driving nobody likes the new boy. Any time anybody got into F1, we didn't like it, and we made their life hard. So that's a little bit natural.
But he was like that in Formula 1, extremely aggressive and got on people's nerves. I guess he kept the same personality going into NASCAR, which once he settles in, it will be all right. He's driving hard, he's fast, and he's making a name for himself. Now he's earning respect, so that's fine.
But I've never been as aggressive as him, I would say. But at the same time, NASCAR is a different ball game. So if and when I get in there, I'll figure it out.
Q. We've talked to Juan a little bit about you, and he's very excited you're coming. He says he'll help you in any way that he can. But I remember back to when he first got into Formula 1, you and he didn't always get along. Where did it sort of shift and what changed in your relationship?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Well, we had a hard time, I would say early in our careers, then we mellowed down. But off the track, outside of the car, we always got along. Just there were a few high-spirited moments in car on the track.
You know, when everybody's a little bit on the limit and got the pressure and everything, I guess you tend to blow up a little bit easier, and I think that's what happened between us on a few races, that's all.
Q. I don't know if you'll be able to answer in English and then in French. But anyway, could you tell me as accurately as possible how you felt in the car, in the truck yesterday, and how you felt this morning? Have you been able to progress from yesterday to this morning?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Yeah, we've made some steps forward overnight, and just it feels more natural. I'm more comfortable sitting in the car in the truck and going into the corners and knowing what to expect when I turn the wheel and how much to turn it and so on. That makes the driving easier, so I can get the lap time in the first two laps now instead of waiting for the fourth lap. So getting up to speed is easier to maximize the grip of the tire. (Speaking in French.)
Q. Again, in Formula 1 you certainly were very well known to speak your mind no matter what, and no matter how much trouble it might have gotten you into with the FIA. Do you see Tony Stewart and people like that who say what's on their mind and say, well, maybe I'm coming into a land of free speech? Maybe there are penalties for it, but do you enjoy seeing that your kind of outspokenness is already somewhat commonplace in NASCAR?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Yeah, I think it's a great thing. I think it shows it's still human and down to earth. It's not robots driving, it's human beings with feelings and they say what's on their minds. So I guess I won't be lost in that. I won't have to change to carry on like that.
Q. I'm curious, you said F1 fans don't really know what oval racing is all about and the appeal and maybe why we're so mad for it. How would you sum it up for folks, maybe, who don't get why we love it?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Oh, it's really hard to explain for the European fans, because in their mind it's only two corners and it looks like it's easy driving and flat out and that's it. What they don't realize is there is a lot of fine tuning to do on the car to gain that extra stability in the car. And also driving in traffic, and all that happens during a race, it happens on the track. A lot more than in open wheel racing like in Europe, where a lot of it happens in the start and that's about it.
So it's just a different type of racing. I guess unless, and just watching it on TV won't give you the whole picture. I guess you just have to come to a race and feel the atmosphere to get it.
Q. Could you go over what your timetable is to getting to Nextel Cup a little more specifically, please?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Well, we've got this test to finish. And then we schedule in a bunch of things, but we still need to get the deal going. So right now it's a question mark. But it would be busy until the end of the season, something every week. Testing in some cars and some different race to go get race mileage on the ovals and the speedways.
Q. I have a two-part question. One is how fast did this come together with Bill Davis? When did you start talking to him? And when did you finally reach a deal? And the second part as a Quebec driver, is it possible that we might see some Quebec companies that are already peripherally exposed to NASCAR, like Bouchard and Bombardier, involved in your program?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Well, it happened really fast, this contact with Bill Davis Racing. From then on, everybody seemed to be excited and open minded and wanted to give it a go. So it happened really fast. Just had to fly in, make a seat and come testing.
For the second part of the question, it would make sense to get some Quebec or Canadian companies involved in the program. But we're just working hard on that.
Q. Just a question: Why Bill Davis Racing? They're not one of the more higher echelon teams. And what do you think now is the – can you give a percentage on the probability that the deal will come together and you will be in Cup next year?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Why Bill Davis Racing? Well, you have to look at the truck racing. They're leading the championship and doing really well. So that is the best place to start to get mileage, and to get used to running at those speeds in traffic. If you look at the Nextel cars, they're going better every race, they move up, and it's better than a team that's going to move down.
Q. Have you ever raced at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? And do you think you might contact Patrick Carpentier and Tagliani and maybe get some tips?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I've not raced there. I've raced on a few ovals, but there was no race there when I was racing in North America. So, yeah, I'm sure if I end up racing there, I'll have to get some tips from people. They've been helping me out here and testing as well, so that is very useful.
Q. When you were looking to come back to North America, was NASCAR the only series that you looked at? Or did you look at the other two series, especially IRL, considering you wanted to run ovals?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: No, I didn't look at IRL. NASCAR, I only concentrated on NASCAR.
You know, after Formula 1, when you want to carry on racing, you want it to be at a tough level. And in North America, the top level is NASCAR.
Q. Now that you have two days of testing, how much more testing do you need before going on a first race in truck racing, do you think?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No idea. The team would know better than me what is required. I've been told it's quite bumpy and it's a little bit different than testing here. But the main thing would be running in traffic, that's what's needed now.
Q. We all know that you beat Michael Schumacher for the F1 in '07. With that in mind is the thought of competing in NASCAR at all intimidating to you?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Well the good thing is I've already raced on ovals in a speed race in IndyCar years ago. So I know what oval is all about, and what, you know, the dangers of ovals as well. So it's not something that can be a surprise. So I've already had a few crashes on ovals, so I kind of know what to expect.
But it's true, when I was talking with other European drivers in F1, they were dumfounded when I was telling them about ovals. They were would call me mad wanting to drive ovals.
Q. I would certainly never suggest that there's no politics in NASCAR. But I would assume it pales greatly to what you experience in Formula 1. And that is something that Montoya talks a lot about. He just got tired of all the B.S. and wanted to get back to racing. Does that at all, do you agree with any of that?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I don't know how it is in NASCAR yet, but I'm sure there's politics everywhere. But it was hard to beat the high level of politics of Formula 1. It is true that it's extremely high, and most of the time it overshadows the sport. This is a shame as a racer.
As long as you're winning, it's great. But as soon as you're not winning, then the politics take over, and it does make racing not fun at all. So listening to what Juan Pablo is saying, it sounds like NASCAR is where racing should be.
THE MODERATOR: All right, well, thanks to Jacques Villeneuve, thank you for joining us. Welcome to NASCAR.
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: We're glad to have you and really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule to join us.
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: It was a pleasure.