Pagenaud, Newgarden welcome Villeneuve to Indy 500

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Last week, there were two rather major names released to compete in the Indianapolis 500: 1995 race and CART series champion Jacques Villeneuve, and 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch.

At least two of IndyCar’s current drivers are supportive of the Villeneuve move, as the French Canadian returns to open-wheel racing for the first time in eight years.

“I really think it’s great for the series to have that big of a name coming back,” said Simon Pagenaud, who will be one of Villeneuve’s two teammates at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“You love those kind of stories. You want to promote new guys coming up, but to have the past champions go against the new guys can be exciting.”

One of said “new guys” – young American Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, now entering his third season – also endorses both Villeneuve’s Indy 500 return and also Juan Pablo Montoya’s full season return.

“It’s super exciting,” Newgarden told MotorSportsTalk last week. “Seeing some of these guys come back in, I watched Montoya in F1, and he was such a badass everywhere. It’s kind of interesting to race him now. It’s a little surreal. Same with Villeneuve. He’s a legend at everything he’s done.”

However, while both admit there will be positive buzz generated from the returns, neither Pagenaud nor Newgarden think the returning drivers will have it easy.

“Jacques was in the Indy 500 19 years ago, so the cars have changed quite a lot,” Pagenaud said. “He’ll follow what we’re doing within the team. But he’ll need time.”

Added Newgarden, “I think they’ll have a tough time. There’s so many good guys in IndyCar right now, and they have all more time with the DW12 car, learning the way this thing is in the modern era. It will be tough but should be interesting. It will be cool to be driving alongside such respected names.”

The battle of generations is among the intriguing story lines for this year’s Indianapolis 500. And it’s something both Pagenaud and Newgarden appreciate.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.