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: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.