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Penske calls up Villeneuve for Nationwide
24 May 2011
Former F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve - perhaps feeling a bit left out given all the attention going to another former F1 champ, Kimi Raikkonen of late - has signed up for a brief return to the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
He will compete on the series' two road courses for Penske Racing in their #22 Dodge, at Road America on June 25 and in Montreal on August 20, on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve named after Jacques' father.
The #22 is usually driven by Sprint Cup driver Brad Keselowski, but with the Sprint Cup competing in different cities on those weekends he will not be able to do double duty.
Villeneuve's road course experience - including F1 Grand Prix events - makes him an obvious choice to step in for Keselowski, and he has prior experience of both venues: his best Nationwide series result in the past was at Montreal in 2010 when he finished in third place, while his last outing at Road America was thwarted by an alternator problem on the last lap after he had run in the top two for most of the race. Previously, Villeneuve had won two CART series races at Road America in the 90s.
"Jacques has run well at both of these tracks before and he'll be a good fit," said the president of Penske Racing, Tim Cindric. "It's great to be able bring aboard a driver like Jacques, who has raced and won at the highest levels of motorsports."
Villeneuve, 40, won the CART title and the Indianapolis 500 in 1995 before moving to F1 where he won the world championship in 1997, putting him in the select company of two former Penske Racing drivers - Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi.
"I am really looking forward to joining Penske Racing and getting the chance to race at two of my favorite tracks," said Villeneuve. "We should be very competitive in both of these events."
Villeneuve tested with the Penske team at Road America last week, prior to the deal being formalised. It had been suggested that Penske was also in talks with Paul Tracy about the Montreal outing, before today's deal was confirmed.
Villeneuve - a veteran of 163 F1 Grand Prixs - has raced in three Sprint Cup, five Nationwide and seven Camping World Truck Series races since his NASCAR debut in 2007.
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