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.

‘No desire’ for Lewis Hamilton to race in Indianapolis 500

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Lewis Hamilton has ruled out a future appearance in the Indianapolis 500, saying he has “no real plans” to do any serious racing once his time in Formula 1 is over.

Former teammate and current McLaren driver Fernando Alonso took part in the 101st running of the Indy 500 in May, qualifying fifth and running high up the order before retiring late on with an engine issue.

The F1-to-IndyCar crossover proved to be one of the biggest motorsport stories of the year, and has stirred the imagination of other drivers to make a similar step into other events in the future, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans which is known to be on Alonso’s radar as well as that of Haas racer Romain Grosjean.

Three-time F1 world champion Hamilton admired 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato’s victory ring when on the podium at the Japanese Grand Prix earlier this month, trying it on and joking it may spur him to enter the race to try and win the jewelry.

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, Hamilton stressed he made the comment in jest, saying he holds not interest in entering the ‘500.

“Honestly it hasn’t inspired me to do the Indy 500,” Hamilton said.

“I’ve always respected it and appreciated it. I got to watch part of it when Fernando did it which I thought was super exciting. I love the idea of drivers being able to do more than one series.

“Just the other day I got to drive an F1 car on an oval circuit which was interesting. I have a huge amount of respect for those drivers as it is quite scary approaching those banks at the speeds that they do.

“I personally don’t have a desire to drive it. Maybe one day I will go out and have some fun.

“I have a lot of opportunities to do those kinds of things, but no real plans to do anything serious.”

Hamilton has previously said he would like to try a NASCAR race for fun one day, but has made clear his plan after his F1 career is over is to distance himself from racing in order to pursue other interests.