Jacques Villeneuve will attempt to be on the starting grid for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500, after Schmidt Peterson Motorsports confirmed that it would be fielding a car for the 42-year-old Canadian in May.
Villeneuve competed in two Indy 500 races in 1994 and 1995, winning the latter event before heading off to F1, where he went on to win the 1997 world championship with Williams.
"To have the opportunity to return to Indy car racing and the Indianapolis 500 is something I never thought possible,” Villeneuve said in a press event on Wednesday. "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.
"Trying to get back to those memories, the speed of driving on that track, on the edge with traffic, it's something that hasn't been reciprocated in any other form of racing," he added. "That was a level of excitement that was crazy. Also, it's the biggest race event in the world."
The 19-year interval between Indy 500 appearances will be the longest gap between outings of any driver in the event's history. Since he won in 1995, Villeneuve has also competed in NASCAR, making him one of only two drivers to have raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in IndyCar, F1 and NASCAR - the other being Juan Pablo Montoya, who will also make his return to 'The Greatest Spectacle in Racing' this year after a 14-year absence of his own.
"I've been fortunate enough to compete in several of the world's top racing series, and nothing excites me more than entering the IndyCar Series at its current level of competitiveness," Villeneuve said. "Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has proven itself able to compete with the largest of teams, and I am excited to get to work with Sam and the team and start preparing for May."
His one-off return to IndyCar means that Villeneuve will be working alongside the team's regular drivers Simone Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin.
“We're very pleased to have a driver of the calibre of Jacques in our line-up in May,” team principal and co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “He's a former winner in the event and brings tremendous experience from his success in the world's top racing series.
“Having grown up in Canada, the name Villeneuve is synonymous with winning," added Schmidt's business partner Ric Peterson. "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 honour to have the opportunity to be involved in bringing Jacques back to the '500,' and we look forward to a fantastic result.”
Asked how the possibility to return to the Indy 500 came up, Villeneuve said it had all been very quick.
"The opportunity came about with Sam Schmidt. We started talking not long ago, actually a few weeks ago. It all went fast," he explained. "The discussions happened at the right time because I'd been watching the IndyCars last year, and it looked extremely exciting with the new cars, to the point where I was angry and jealous that I wasn't racing. So that got me going again.
"I've been active ever since leaving IndyCar in '95, anyway, with F1. I did some NASCAR racing, some other forms of racing, in Australia, different places. I just wasn't considering going back to something I'd already done mostly because there's been a few dark years for IndyCar.
"But the whole group behind the series have been working really hard and done a tremendous job because it's getting back to the glory days with the races exciting and also the field of drivers is becoming more and more impressive every year again," he continued.
Villeneuve was also quick to head off comparisons between himself and Montoya, pointing out that his one-off deal was very different from Montoya's full time return to open-wheel action in 2014 at Chip Ganassi Racing.
"He will be competing in the whole season, fighting for the championship. It's very, very different. He'll be really well-prepared. You can say that he's got a lot of oval experience now after his years in NASCAR," said Villeneuve.
"I got to know him better actually the few races I did in NASCAR than F1," he added. "We didn't get along so much in F1. The few races I did in NASCAR, he became a different person. I guess North America and pure racing suits him. He's very talented. He's going back there to win. He's not going there just to have fun.
"That's what also makes it fun, is to be able to go in that race after so many years and racing against guys that deserve to win races, deserve to be at the highest level of motorsports."
Villeneuve added that it was too soon to tell whether he would get any pre-Indianapolis oval testing in at Fontana, but downplayed suggestions that the Indy 500 outing could pave the way to a home appearance at Toronto later in the season.
"It's not something you just jump into unless you're working on doing the full season the following year and building something up," he insisted. "Just as a one-off, the Indy 500 is the one race that stands out. It is the biggest race in the world. You can focus on that."