Q&A: Jacques Villeneuve

Q&A: Jacques Villeneuve on F1 racing, his dad and his new race track in B.C. 

Former F1 champ looks back on his life and career while attending a Toronto gala celebrating the 50th anniversary of F1 racing in Canada.

From left, Brian Williams, Ron Fellows, Jacques Villeneuve, Joann Villeneuve and Melanie Villeneuve attend an event celebrating 50 years of F1 racing in Canada at the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto Wednesday.  (MARCUS OLENIUK / FOR THE TORONTO STAR

Canadian F1 legend Jacques Villeneuve was enjoying himself at Wednesday’s 50-year celebration of F1 racing in Canada at the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto. But one of the more pressing topics of the afternoon — which featured more than a dozen homegrown F1 legends sharing their memories — was a 1971 Boss Mustang that belonged to his late father, Gilles Villeneuve. 

The red and black screamer was one of two classic muscle cars his father used to drag race just outside Montreal, back in the early days when Gilles was getting started with performance cars. Gilles also tied the knot with his wife, Joann, in a ’67 Mustang, a car that is now being restored in a Montreal-area shop. 

For Jacques, the 1997 F1 World Champion, the thought of those two muscle cars, amid all the superb F1 machinery on hand to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first F1 race in Canada, was enough to prompt a few smiles and memories. 

We sat down to chat with Jacques, now 45 and a father of four, who is aiming to launch his new project, Area 27, a top-level race course in British Columbia, by the time F1 rolls back into Canada this June. 

So, how about that red ’71 Boss Mustang, what do you remember about that car? 
I have some good memories of that car. I used to sit in the back seat, I was a kid, I can still remember the smell of the leather seats . . . my mom drove me to school in it, we’d brought the car to Europe. She’d drive us from Monaco to the Swiss mountains (where the family lived). It was a six-hour drive and the car was different than anything else there, but we had the license plates (changed to European plates), the ones you see on the car now. My father wasn’t an engineer, but he kept redesigning the car (swapped out the original small block for a 427-cubic-inch Ford with dual-carburetor, high-rise manifold). 

Seeing the 50-year celebration of F1 in Canada (organized in part by the Star’s Norris McDonald), and all the legendary Canadian F1 drivers and builders here, what’s running through your mind?
Well, it’s wonderful to see all these people together in one place . . . I don’t know but some of them haven’t seen each other since the 1970s. I am a passenger in all that, but I’m excited to learn how it was all linked together by these people. I love that my dad’s car (Mustang) was restored, that I can see the restoration of his first drag cars. I never thought that car could be brought back to life. I know my mom and dad got married in that car (1967 Boss Mustang). It’s pretty cool. 

What thoughts are running through your mind — about your own career? 
Everything you do in life defines you. My career was a culmination of my dreams and my families dreams because, in a lot of ways, this (championship) was my dad’s dream. I don’t think he ever thought that he wouldn’t win it, then pass away and not be around to see his son win it. I still love to drive, always . . . when I was racing, you could call me anytime, day . . . night, middle of the night . . . and I’d be on a plane and going anywhere. I’d be in Melbourne (Australia) one minute, then on a plane to Monaco over night and wake up ready to test. It’s the things you do, the way your drive, the thinking and the moves, that’s what defines you. 

What was your biggest sacrifice?
It didn’t feel like a sacrifice, none of it . . . But if you live that life, you’re framed by it, you have to be selfish, focus on it and nothing else. I was 25 when I started (in Indycar and F1) and I was perceived as being young in the sport … Now, its super old, but it wasn’t a sacrifice then. Now, at age 13 and 14, parents have their kids sacrificing everything without the kids realizing it. They’re being taken here and there, and everything is plotted out . . . I didn’t have to sacrifice my youth, but once I got into F1, that’s all that existed, that’s all you needed to feel alive. It meant driving like a maniac, nothing else mattered. 

What kind of training did that involve?
There was a lot of training. I had an Austrian guy, he worked with Williams in ’96, and he was like me, young and proud. I didn’t want to train, I turned away from it a lot, but he built a proper training machine. I had my driver’s seat attached to the apparatus, then a lot of weights were brought in and we trained body parts, my neck . . . and muscles to counter the G-forces. The apparatus had a memory chip in it so you couldn’t cheat either. It lasted an hour or so and simply gaining five seconds on your (simulated times) was difficult. I’d be in my race suit and we’d do training at 3,500 metres altitude . . . the temperature was 40 C and the humidity made it feel like 60. In an F1 race, I’d lose 3 kilos of weight and more in water. By the end of the training, I was moving 45 kilograms with my neck. The last year I drove, we’d be pulling 6 Gs through the corners. It was almost . . . that you couldn’t see right, there was so much force. 

What do you remember about your father as a driver? 
I honestly don’t remember much. He couldn’t be a (dedicated) father because of the selfishness we were talking about. You needed to be that to be a driver back then, and my father was proud of his son, for sure. But he was a father, he loved his daughter and was proud of his son. After his death, I put it in my mind, in the back somewhere . . . but I remember him in a helicopter, doing barrel rolls because you weren’t supposed to be able to do that, and then he’d tell me to drive it . . . I was 10 years old. I was super proud of him, he was a racer, that’s how I saw him. 

Do you drive now? 
I don’t race, if that’s what you mean. It becomes difficult to drive unless you have a huge amount of cash, but the passion is still there. 

What’s your daily driver? 
A big Range Rover . . . I have four kids, we live in Switzerland, in the mountains. I play hockey, too. I play a lot, everyone plays hockey in Switzerland, even more so than here, there’s garage leagues everywhere. 

Tell us about Area 27. 
The Area is a (play) on Area 51, kind of a secret reference like Area 51 . . . the 27 is obvious (his father’s F1 car number). It’s a private club outside of Penticton, B.C. The course is 4.8 kilometres long; it’s the biggest track out west. I’ve always loved designing tracks, I’d draw them on paper when I was younger. I loved writing music but I designed tracks since I was 4 or 5, so this (Area 27) gave me an opportunity. You walk the area, take aerial views of it . . . then just feel what you want to have in it. We have 230 members now. We were amazed how many people have these cars but nowhere to drive them. We opened in November but we want to officially open on the weekend of the Montreal Grand Prix. I’m hoping to get my 97 Williams car there for the opening. 

F1 racing then and now, what’s the difference? 
Huge difference . . . They’ve gone in strange ways with technology and there’s this fake Green image . . . it has destroyed racing to an extent. People just want to see good racing but now it is largely expensive and complicated, it actually complicates a driver’s life. Then there’s tires that don’t survive. On a quality lap, they still can’t go all out and, on race laps, they’re as much as eight seconds off . . . none of that allows for proper, gladiatorial racing. People, for instance, like watching downhill ski racing because the racers are on an edge. That’s the same reason why they love F1 racing. If you look at my dad’s racing days, unless you could feel where things were, you had to feel it, and if you didn’t, you didn’t win. Just let racers be racers, let them be gladiators.

Fonte:  www.thesatr.com

Ai Jacques, como amo ler entrevistas como esta!!!!  #amoinfinitamente

Este canadense tem uma visão simples, ideológica e romântica de tudo (seja na F1 ou em outros assuntos) e é uma das características que eu mais adoro nele. Sempre foi assim desde que eu me tornei fã dele há 21 anos. Faz tempo que estamos neste juntos né Ville?! Pois é...

E quando ele fala do pai (hoje mais do que nunca, por ser um também), imagino o que ele deve sentir. Um orgulho ainda maior e uma compreensão muito mais profunda de tudo o que o pai dele fez.

Jacques para mim sempre fui mais do que o piloto pelo qual torci. Sempre foi alguém que admirei fora das pistas, pelos pensamentos e ideias. É claro que há momentos em que não concordo com ele, mas isto não significa que deixo de respeitá-lo. 

Para encerrar, uma pena Gilles não poder ter vivido para ver o filho campeão e para estar nesta foto com ele, Joann e Melanie, celebrando a importância do GP do Canadá, que ele ajudou e muito a colocar no mapa da F-1.

Beijinhos, Ludy


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