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Friday, April 4, 2014

Villeneuve: Rally or Won’t He?

Jacques Villeneuve and Albatec Racing Peugeot 208
Photo courtesy FIA World Rallycross

I’ve been getting a lot of press releases over the last few weeks about the FIA World Rallycross Championship (World RX), and Jacques Villeneuve’s participation in it. First up was one dated February 13 announcing that Villeneuve had signed on to drive a Peugeot 208 for the Albatec Racing team, based in Dumfries, Scotland.

Why not? I thought. He’s already done F1 and Indy Car, not to mention NASCAR, and could use a new challenge. Then I wondered what on earth rallycross was. Nothing to do with rally racing, to my disappointment, but it still looks like fun. You can find the official page here, but basically, it involves 600bhp cars racing around a mixed surfaces track—that could include asphalt and gravel. While rallycross has been around since 1967, this will be the first year for World RX.

Jacques Villeneuve and Albatec Racing Peugeot 208
Photo by and courtesy of Gary Hawkins/Ebrey Photographic
According to Villeneuve, “I am really looking forward to entering the rallycross arena with Albatec Racing. With my previous ice-racing experience, I’m excited about driving sideways in a 600bhp, four-wheel-drive Peugeot 208 over the combination of loose and tarmac surfaces, not to mention the jumps. With the added incentive of it being an FIA World Championship, the opportunity was really too good to miss.

“We had a very successful test in France. I was very impressed with the quality of the team, particularly on the engineering side – it reminded me of my time in F1. The car is just so responsive, the power is amazing and with 600bhp to play with, who wouldn’t be excited? I was pleasantly surprised by how reactive the car is to any changes, and I’m very much looking forward to getting into the events.”

A second press release dated February 22 from Albatec Racing said Villeneuve got to properly test his new drive in ten 4-lap stints at the Lydden Hill circuit, to ready him for his May debut. According to Albatec’s Team Principal, Andy Scott, “Jacques proved his speed straight of the box during the test in France, but it is vital that he gets as much track time as possible, on different circuits, to help him acclimatise to a world rallycross car. We chose Lydden Hill, the home of rallycross in the UK as it is the perfect circuit for this, providing a good mixture of challenges, requiring very fast and precise lines and braking points.

“It was also good for him to drive on a rallycross circuit that’s on the world championship schedule as it gives him the chance to experience the whole atmosphere of racing in an amphitheatre circuit. As expected, he was immediately fast once we’d addressed the power steering issue this morning, and just got quicker and quicker as the day progressed. We will test again before the season starts, but where and when has not yet been decided.”

Two more press releases dated February 24, one from Lydden Hill, and one from World RX, were singing the same tune.

Two days later, in comes another press release from Albatec Racing. Seems Villeneuve had been offered a chance to race in the Indy 500. At that point, he was still slated to do the World RX debut race in Portugal in May, but would have to miss the Lydden Hill race later in May as it would conflict with the Indy 500. Hmm. Could this be the start of a new F1 career? Not that I’d blame him.

Villeneuve stated“After the test in Kent, it really fired me up for the FIA World Rallycross Championship, and I remain committed to giving my very best to the team and the Championship, starting at the opening round in Portugal. However I’m a racer, with a passion for racing, and the Indy 500 is without question the biggest event on the motorsport calendar – not many drivers get the chance to drive on that track, and for me it’s a personal challenge, with a first and second there already, I need to finish in the top two to keep up the average!”

At the moment, he’s still expected to return to World RX in June for the third race in Norway. I can’t help wondering if that will depend on how he does at the Indy 500.



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