Jacques Villeneuve officially confirmed by SPM for Indy 500

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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.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Sebastien Bourdais

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A dream start occurred for Sebastien Bourdais and the Dale Coyne Racing team upon their reunion, followed by a nightmare in Indianapolis with a huge crash in qualifying, and ended with a rapid recovery to build confidence for 2018.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2016: 14th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 24 Laps Led, 11.9 Avg. Start, 11.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 21st Place (8 Starts), 1 Win, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 74 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 11.0 Avg. Finish

The 2017 campaign for Sebastien Bourdais upon his return to Dale Coyne Racing will forever be known as both a year of “what could have been” and a year of “what a comeback it was.”

The abnormal season for Bourdais stretched eight races with a three-month break in the middle owing to his own mistake qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fracture to his right hip. His car was a rocket ship; but after two laps at 231 mph, Bourdais appeared to over-correct and destroyed the wall at Turn 2 in Indy in a massive 127G impact. It was a horrific looking accident, but one that also saw Bourdais rather lucky to have not been injured worse.

It set forth in motion an incredible recovery that saw Bourdais back testing the Monday after Mid-Ohio, just over two months since the accident, then in race action just over three months later at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval, and because Bourdais is a regulation badass, he finished in the top-10 straight out of the box. He worked as hard as he did to return earlier than anticipated to avoid an offseason of questions asking if he’d come back and if he’d be strong enough to do so.

The recovery was a welcome story to end the year after the agony at Indy that stopped a potential title run or certainly top-five in points finish in its tracks. A classic Coyne strategy special vaulted Bourdais from last to first and a popular win in his U.S. hometown of St. Petersburg to kick off the year. A second place at Long Beach backed it up and eighth at Barber kept him atop the standings.

But Indy was shaping up to be an important bounce back weekend after Bourdais got taken out in Phoenix, then incurred an engine failure in the IMS road course race. And then, of course, his loud and violent accident qualifying for the ‘500 changed the course of the season.

After three “almost there” but largely unfulfilling years at KV Racing Technology, Bourdais embraced the family atmosphere back at Coyne along with longtime engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, determined to continue punching above the team’s weight. He crafted a remarkable story all season and will be keen to fulfill it over the course of a proper full campaign in 2018.