Jacques Villeneuve

Didn’t you use to be Jacques Villeneuve?

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A familiar face showed up Friday at Sonoma Raceway. Sure, he’s lost a bit of hair — not to mention it’s starting to get speckled with grey — but there’s no mistaking a guy who was once one of the best race car drivers in the world.

Remember Jacques Villeneuve? He won the last CART series championship in 1995 before the big split between CART and the upstart Indy Racing League the following year.

From there, Villeneuve went on to a fairly successful Formula One career, winning 11 of 163 starts, with 13 poles and 23 podium appearances. He didn’t miss a beat after leaving CART, finishing second in his first F1 season in 1996 and then winning the championship in 1997.

But since his last year in F1 in 2006 — he only made two-thirds of the 18 races on the schedule — the Montreal native and son of the late Canadian racing legend Gilles Villeneuve has been bopping around as a part-time NASCAR driver, primarily in the Nationwide Series (NNS).

Not so this weekend, though. Even though the NNS races Saturday at Road America, Villeneuve will attempt to qualify the James Finch-owned No. 51 Chevrolet for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway. It will be the first time he’s ever competed on the 1.99-mile road course.

“We wanted to put a driver in our car who would give us the best chance to win at Sonoma,” Finch told ESPN.com. “When the opportunity came up to have someone like Jacques in our car, we were very happy to make that happen. It’s a long way out there [to California] to not be competitive. He gives us the chance to not only do really well but to actually win the race. We led laps there last year and almost did win it (Kurt Busch drove the car in last year’s race and finished third). We plan on getting the trophy this time.”

While Villeneuve hasn’t raced a Sprint Cup car since 2010 (finished 29th in the Brickyard 400), Villeneuve could pose a big threat to the Sprint Cup regulars on Sunday if he makes it through Saturday’s qualifying.

You see, road courses are Villeneuve’s bread and butter. No matter what series or sanctioning body, he’s almost always in his element when he gets to turn left — and right. He also has been known for not being shy when it comes to trading paint and banging fenders.

For example: In nine career NNS races, Villeneuve hasn’t won, but he’s come darn close to it, with three top-five and two other top-10 finishes, including finishes of sixth (Road America) and Montreal (third) last season.

Villeneuve was hailed as a great addition to the Sprint Cup world when it was announced he would join several other world-class drivers as full-time competitors in the series in 2008, including Scotsman Dario Franchitti and Canadian Patrick Carpentier, while Australian Marcos Ambrose competed full-time in the Nationwide Series. Juan Pablo Montoya had joined the series full-time a season earlier, essentially blazing the trail for the imports.

Unfortunately, Villeneuve’s career ended before it even had a chance to start, as promised funding for a full-time ride with Bill Davis evaporated along with his ride before the season even started. Franchitti and Carpentier didn’t last the season, either. Only Ambrose has emerged as the lone survivor of the foreign onslaught, in addition to the trailblazing Montoya.

It’s too bad, because Villeneuve likely could have done well if he had sponsorship and the right team.

Still, it’s good to see him back in his first Cup race in three seasons. Even though he’s now 42, Villeneuve still has a lot of racing left in him. Who knows, maybe this could be a sign of things to come — and maybe a second chance that he so deserves.

F1 Paddock Pass: Force India VJM10 Launch (VIDEO)

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In the second edition of this week’s F1 on NBC Sports original digital series Paddock Pass, the Sahara Force India team reveals the VJM10 at the Silverstone Circuit in England, not far from the team’s headquarters.

Force India’s steady climb up the ladder has seen them rise to fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, achieved last year.

NBCSN F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton checks in with drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, the latter of whom shifts to Force India after an impressive half season with Manor last year.

“It just looks amazing. It’s the first time I’ve been so excited looking at the car,” Perez told Buxton. “We have to adapt to a new driving style and see how physically demanding it is. It will be a big challenge for us.”

Otmar Szafnauer, COO of Sahara Force India, also offered his thoughts and expectations:

“The only way to hope to keep (the momentum) was to develop the 2017 car early. We don’t have the resources for parallel development,” Szafnauer told Buxton.

Stay tuned to the end of the video for a potential nugget about the testing lineup.

A link to Renault’s Paddock Pass from yesterday is here.

Further preseason content will come this week and into next on NBCSports.com.

New Sauber C36 chassis hits the track (VIDEO)

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Although Formula 1 testing doesn’t begin until Monday, several teams have filming days in advance at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona to gather preliminary material ahead of the new year.

The first up of those is Sauber F1 Team, which premiered its new C36 chassis on Monday and has now hit the Barcelona track for filming sessions. The Ferrari-powered car is the 25th in Sauber’s F1 history.

Marcus Ericsson took the initial shakedown with Pascal Wehrlein sidelined owing to his injuries sustained at the Race of Champions. Antonio Giovinazzi is set to fill in at the first test.

Sauber’s released a quick video of the test on its social channels and website, and is linked above.

Williams confirms running order for Barcelona tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 25:  Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams drives during day four of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 25, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Williams Martini Racing has confirmed who’s running when ahead of the two Barcelona tests, starting next week.

At the first test, Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll will alternate days, with Massa running days one and three and Stroll getting in for days two and four.

The second test will see the Canadian in the first two days before the Brazilian takes over the last two.

Stroll’s had testing in older Williams chassis, but this will mark his first running in the new FW40 chassis. Williams released renderings of the chassis last week.

Williams Martini Racing – Barcelona Test Schedule

Test 1
February 27 – Felipe Massa
February 28 – Lance Stroll
March 1 – Felipe Massa
March 2 – Lance Stroll

Test 2
March 7 – Lance Stroll
March 8 – Lance Stroll
March 9 – Felipe Massa
March 10 – Felipe Massa

KV Racing’s auction set for March 27

NEWTON, IA - JULY 11: Sebastien Bourdais, driver of the #11 Mistic KVSH Racing Dallara Chevrolet, leads Sebastian Saavedra, driver of the #17 Automatic Fire Sprinklers KV AFS Racing Dallara Chevrolet, during practice for the Iowa Corn Indy 300 at Iowa Speedway on July 11, 2014 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Saavedra in 2014. Photo: Getty Images
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The remaining assets from KV Racing Technology will be auctioned off on March 27 in a live and online auction put on by Key Auctioneers in Indianapolis.

Much of KV’s inventory has been sold to new Verizon IndyCar Series entrant Juncos Racing, which formally announced its arrival into the series on Tuesday. That includes three chassis, two full sets of pit equipment and one transporter, among other items per Trackside Online.

What’s left for KV of current equipment includes one of the Dallara DW12 chassis – it appears to be the chassis used by Stefan Wilson in last year’s Indianapolis 500 – dampers, drives, gears, lay shafts and more.

There’s also a bit of rolling stock, hospitality and other memorabilia available.

A full page of what’s available is linked here.

KV Racing was born out of the assets of the former PacWest Racing team (PWR Championship Racing in its final year of 2002), and launched as PK Racing in 2003.

Despite going through myriad name changes in the 14 years since, KV was still a fun part of the IndyCar fabric and thanks to Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser, a staple in the paddock. They never fully evolved into a championship-contending team but were an Indianapolis 500-winning entry.

With their demise, it left Dale Coyne Racing as the last of the Champ Car racing teams that switched over to IndyCar in 2008 still standing. But Juncos’ arrival as the ninth team gives new life to a new breed of team owners coming into the series and hopefully opens the door for more from here.

In the meantime, if you’re in Indianapolis and have the means or desire to get a piece of the KV history, March 27 represents that chance.