They may have been rivals on the track in their formative years, but sportscar ace Stephane Ortelli and Jacques Villeneuve were friends off it - and the Frenchman has not forgotten.

Following Villeneuve's undignified exit from Formula One on the eve of the Japanese Grand Prix, the motorsport rumour mill has gone into overdrive concerning his future options, with everything from a McLaren test drive to a return to the CART series being mooted at some point. However, Ortelli has apparently made the Canadian a concrete offer to join him for the one race that JV has said still appeals to him.

According to Canada's National Post newspaper, endurance expert Ortelli has suggested that he and Villeneuve rekindle the friendship that they forged in Formula Three and team up to contest the Le Mans 24 Hours.

"I think that Formula One is not good for Jacques any more," Ortelli explained, "He is a wonderfully fast driver, and he is very good at marketing and image and bringing a lot to Canada and to racing. He is more than welcome in our kind of racing. I know he loves Le Mans and he would love to do it one day, so why not be team-mates again in Le Mans?"

Before their careers took different paths, with Ortelli returning to Europe in search of an F1 drive and Villeneuve heading Stateside to join the CART series, the Frenchman had been marginally the quicker, more successful driver. Now, despite the fact that Villeneuve has won the CART title, the Indianapolis 500, countless grands prix and the F1 world championship, the circle appears to have returned to its starting point, with Ortelli a regular fixture at the head of various sportscar series and JV scratching around for a ride.

"When I started to drive my first long-distance race, I fell in love," he admitted, "I had to make compromises with team-mates. I had to share things. I am much more excited when I can share success with people that I really like to work with than just doing it on my own.

"I don't have to be jealous. I am still driving one of the fastest cars in the world and the only thing I have to do is beat the others. And I like to beat them and I hate to be beaten. This is much more important than just to be part of the Formula One circus. It's cool."



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