Although it was initially reported Monday, on Wednesday, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports officially confirmed Jacques Villeneuve, 42, as its third driver for this year’s Indianapolis 500.
Villeneuve is the 1995 Indianapolis 500 and CART series champion, and was rookie-of-the-year at Indy in 1994 with a second-place finish.
The Canadian, who won the 1997 Formula One World Championship driving for Williams, has not raced an open-wheel car in anger since his last season in F1 in 2006. That year, he raced for BMW Sauber, and his career lasted only a few races longer than Juan Pablo Montoya, who is also making his return to the ‘500 for the first time in more than a dozen years.
For Villeneuve, who assuming he’ll start will set a new record for longest gap in-between starts, it’s a chance to drive a modern IndyCar even though the one he raced in 1995 had more power and will have qualified at a faster average speed.
“To have the opportunity to return to Indy car racing and the Indianapolis 500 is something I never thought possible,” Villeneuve said in a team release. “The memories I have there will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I’m excited to create new memories in 2014.”
Team co-owner Ric Peterson now says adding Villeneuve to a lineup that includes Simon Pagenaud and rookie Mikhail Aleshin brings a marquee name into the fold, and strikes a personal cord.
“Having grown up in Canada, the name Villeneuve is synonymous with winning,” Peterson said. “I was even there in person when he won the Indy 500 in 1995, and Jacques being the only Canadian to win that huge event, it gave me a huge sense of national pride. It is an honor to have the opportunity to be involved in bringing Jacques back to the ‘500,’ and we look forward to a fantastic result.”
It would be 19 years in-between starts for Villeneuve, bettering the mark set by Roland Free and Cy Marshall set in 1947. Both drivers had a 17-year gap, in-between starting the 1930 and 1947 Indianapolis 500s.
Michel Jourdain Jr. came up a year shy of that mark in 2012, when he started the race 16 years after his rookie run in 1996.