Jacques Villeneuve may have made his F1 broadcast debut at the recent Canadian Grand Prix, but will show that he is not done with racing when he heads for Australia next month.
F1 drivers competing in the V8 Supercar series are not unusual, but Villeneuve will create something of a first when he stands in for the injured Greg Murphy at the Sucrogen Townsville 400 rather than partnering an established V8 driver in one of the longer endurance events. The 1997 F1 world champion, the first F1 title-winner to grace the V8 field, will pilot the Pepsi Max Crew car for the Townsville street race over 6-8 July.
“It's not every day a decorated driver of Jacques' calibre walks through your doors with his achievements at the highest possible levels of global motorsport," Pepsi Max Crew team owner Rick Kelly said, "JV's upcoming drive with us is a win for everyone - all our staff, the sport, the V8 Supercar fan base in far North Queensland and, of course, PepsiCo, who have had a tough year with Greg's unfortunate back injuries disrupting their marketing programmes. His driving and technical capabilities are sound and I have no doubt he will be quickly on the pace.”
The colourful Canadian, who most recently has dabbled in both sportscars and NASCAR, will be making his V8 Supercar return in North Queensland, having previously partnered Paul Dumbrell in the 2010 Gold Coast 600, and his arrival has been heralded by series CEO David Malone.
“It's real coup for North Queensland to have an international motorsport legend the calibre of Jacques coming to racing in Townsville for three days,” Malone said, “This will be the first time an ex-F1 world champion has driven a V8 Supercar in a stand-alone event, which makes history for our sport.
“Jacques is a 24 Hours of Le Mans win away from being only the second man in history to win the coveted 'triple crown' of Indianapolis 500, F1 championship and Le Mans. He is the kind of driver who is always looking to push himself. It's in his blood.
"For Townsville this is huge news, he is a household name worldwide. Drivers from different competitions around the world look with a degree of envy at the V8 Supercars Championship - we race on some of the best tracks and street circuits in the world here in Australia. Our competition, and the quality of our drivers, is absolutely world class, as is the Townsville event."
Queensland tourism minister Jann Stuckey added that attracting such a big name would raise the profile of the Townsville event and attract world-wide attention to the region.
“The Sucrogen Townsville 400 is already a highlight on Queensland's motorsport calendar," Stuckey noted, "To have Jacques Villeneuve, a world champion from multiple categories race in Queensland, is a big win for the event, and a big win for the state. The 2011 event was a huge success for the region, with more than 150,000 people attending; delivering an economic boost of more than $18 million. With great talent like Villeneuve in 2012, the event is expected to again deliver fantastic results.”
Villeneuve will be racing on all three days of the 2012 Sucrogen Townsville 400, with Friday's practice sessions followed by two races of the V8 Supercars Championship on Saturday and Sunday, and the Canadian was quick to accept the offer from Kelly Racing.
“I feel for Greg Murphy having to miss a number of races in the championship as there is nothing worse for a race driver than sitting on the sidelines with an injury and not being able to accumulate points in the series," he admitted, "When this opportunity came up only one week ago, the stars all aligned and thankfully my commitments with the NASCAR Nationwide Penske Team in America and Porsche Supercup events in Europe allowed me to grab the Pepsi Max Crew seat for the Townsville race in an instant.
"V8 Supercars is a spectacular race series and I had a great experience on the Gold Coast back in October 2010. I have checked out the whole Pepsi Max Crew Graffiti concept and it looks wild - I also understand if time permits that the guys are thinking about a specific livery for the Townsville Race for me which will be cool. Like all drivers though, I am planning to first and foremost be competitive in the car as quickly as possible. The championship is world class and I will be thrilled to do the Townsville race.”
Villeneuve's news coincides with former rival and team-mate Nick Heidfeld's announcement that he will be partnering David Reynolds in the Bottle-O Ford in this year's Gold Coast race [see story here