Former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve, who finished third in the Nationwide Series race at Road America and will return to the Penske Racing seat next month at Montreal, is continuing his quest to find a NASCAR ride.
Villeneuve spent Saturday with the Penske team at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, making the four-hour drive from his Canadian home.
“It’s tough to get in here, so hopefully the good races will keep building up [for me],” the 1997 Formula One champion said outside the Sprint Cup garage.
Having driven for Braun Racing the last few years on road courses, the 40-year-old Villeneuve picked up the two Nationwide stand-alone road-course events to replace Brad Keselowski in the No. 22 car at Penske.
He said he has a test scheduled before getting back in the seat for the Aug. 20 race.
“We had a very good car at Elkhart Lake,” Villeneuve said about Road America. “There are a few things we could have made better, so we are going to look at it [at a test].”
Beyond the two Nationwide races, Villeneuve said he doesn’t have any other NASCAR plans. He only competed in three Nationwide races and one Cup race last year but said he didn’t feel rusty getting back in the car last month at Road America.
“Once you’ve raced for many years, it’s quite natural,” Villeneuve said. “You get in the car, we had done a little bit of testing before, and it was just natural.”
Racing the car that won the title last year obviously doesn’t hurt when a driver doesn’t race weekly.
“I’ve known their organization [at Penske] since the ’90s when I was in IndyCar, so there was always a great amount of respect,” Villeneuve said. “It’s nice to get with a professional team like that. You get to the track and you have everything you need to do what you can. It doesn’t always work out but that level of commitment is amazing.”
Villeneuve hopes the NASCAR race next month at Montreal isn’t the last one. International Speedway Corp.’s contract to promote the race has expired and the Montreal-based promoter did not get economic tourism incentives it applied for to help with costs.
“It’s an amazing race. It’s a big crowd, it gives a good show on television,” Villeneuve said. “It’s good for Canada. It’s good for Montreal, and it’s also good for NASCAR, so it would be a shame [to lose it].
“They have to find a way to have it come back because it’s good for everyone. It would be a loss for everyone if it was gone. I hope they open their eyes and realize that.”