INDYCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 27, 2014HOOSIER SPORTS 365
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to today's IndyCar conference call. We're pleased to be joined today by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports co-owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson and driver Jacques Villeneuve who earlier today announced he will return to the Indianapolis 500 as part of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' lineup this May.
Jacques, you last raced at Indianapolis in 1995. Now coming back almost 20 years later, what do you look forward to the most?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: 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. That was a level of excitement that was crazy. Also, it's the biggest race event in the world.
THE MODERATOR: Why after so long being away? I think it will be the longest period between starts for any driver. Why come back to Indianapolis at this point in your career?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: There's a few reasons. The first one, it's also a question of opportunity. The opportunity came about with Sam Schmidt. We started talking not long ago, actually a few weeks ago. It all went fast. 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 Formula One. 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.
THE MODERATOR: Sam, bringing in another champion driver such as Jacques to your team has to make the 2014 season and anticipation of it even more exciting for you at this point.
SAM SCHMIDT: Yes, I mean, obviously we've got some pretty good stuff up here starting the IndyCar team full-time in 2011, having the pole at Indy, having success in 2012 with Simon, finishing fifth, winning two races last year, finishing third in the championship, and now this.
It's really a representation of the guys and how hard they've been working, how the program has really come along quite nicely.
I think having somebody of Jacques' caliber is an incredible statement and we're really looking forward to it.
THE MODERATOR: Ric, I know in the race you mentioned the name in Villeneuve, in Canada, where you're from, is synonymous with winning. What does it mean to you to have Jacques Villeneuve join the lineup this year?
RIC PETERSON: Well, it's very special. I watched Jacques' career from Toyota Atlantics to Formula One, was always a fan myself. We actually have a few other Canadian employees on our team, and they're also very excited about having Jacques, as is the whole team. But the Canadians have a little extra excitement about it.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for questions.
Q. Jacques, over the years you weren't a big fan of the old IndyCar. When was it that you decided this new model and the way the series was set up was going to be leading them out of their 'dark days', as you called it earlier?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I guess it started when they started going back to road racing, going back to a mix of tracks, going back to the IndyCar that I knew basically. They saw it was time to react, and they did.
Then came this new car, which was quite a surprise with the spoilers and everything. I was dubious until the first time I saw it racing, then I realized how amazing it was, how close the racing was, open-wheel racing that was never heard of. It wasn't accepted anymore in modern days. That's how racing used to be.
When I started seeing that last year, I started getting excited again, just because the racing was amazing, the cars looked fast and aggressive, it looked hard on the drivers, and the battles were fierce, which is all what I love about racing.
Q. Two of the most impressive performances in the Indy 500 in recent years, in that era, I should say, was your victory in 1995, completing 505 miles, and also Juan Montoya when he led 167 laps of that race. Now both of you are returning to Indy for the first time. What will that be like with these two big names coming back?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: 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.
I got to know him better actually the few races I did in NASCAR than F1. 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.
Q. Jacques, what is your testing schedule going to be like? Will you go to Fontana? Will you test in Indy?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: We were just busy getting this going. It happened really, really fast. That will be the next conversation. It will be difficult to find some time, but we'll try to because obviously it would be nice to get a few miles, a few laps in before getting into Indy.
The good thing is there's still plenty of laps to get done during the month of May, which is good. I've been on that racetrack. Even though it was a long time ago, it feels like it was yesterday. I hope I remember it well.
Q. This is premature, but it would be awesome if you could run Toronto. Would that be something that would also interest you?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I don't know. Doing just a race like Toronto is really stacking it against you. It's a very hard racetrack. You don't get the mileage like you do at Indy. So to just arrive there on the weekend without having driven the car would not be very constructive. It would make the result quite negative.
It's not something you just jump into unless you're working on doing the full season the following year and building something up. 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.
Honestly, I didn't even look at the schedule. I think I have only four or five free weekends free this year so I'm not sure it would fit in the schedule.
Q. Jacques, for you it's been awhile since you've been in an open-wheel car, back in 2006 in F1. The cars also had a lot less power than when you last raced them. What do you think is going to be the biggest adjustment, the downforce or the power levels?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: The power levels are the things you get used to the fastest. Possibly downforce and also driving a car that once again will be quite stiff compared to the cars I've been driving lately and very reactive. You can't manhandle as much. When you get sideways at Indy, the chances of you catching it are quite slim compared to most other cars. You can catch it, but it's not something you want to push.
It's slightly a different approach. It's less of a survival way of driving. You really have to feel and understand where the edge is and take your time to get there.
Q. You mentioned earlier that things happened pretty fast. You're not young by a racer's standard. You have young kids now. You haven't been in an IndyCar for 20 years. Talk a little bit about the things you considered when you were making this decision to go back to Indy.
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Just that it is the biggest race in the world and that it was exciting. It was a great opportunity. It's a great team, a great car that will be well-prepared. It was a chance to do something good.
You say I'm older in racing, got kids, and actually that's another drive. I'm a racer at heart and I will always be. That's what keeps me going. That's what keeps me alive.
I don't want to be for my kids just the guy that used to race that they can see in books. I want them to see and live what I've already lived, to see it through my doing it actively.
It's actually a positive effect to have kids.
Q. A few years ago you had the attitude you already had done all of this, you didn't want to do it again, IndyCar wasn't what it used to be. Once you made this decision, did you think back and think you never thought you would be here ever again?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Yes, because when I said that at the time it was where IndyCar was also. It wasn't something I was wanting to be part of.
The way it's been building up in the last few years, there's been a lot of changes. They've been working hard at recreating a great series.
Watching the races last year, it was amazing. I was always watching the Indy 500 but not the rest of the series. Last year I was trying to watch as many races as I could because it was just amazing.
It reminded me of when I was a kid watching racing, how exciting it was, and that's what made me become a racecar driver. I was getting that feeling again watching it.
Q. With the car the way it is now, the racing is a lot closer, tighter. It punches a bigger hole in the air. Can you talk about handling the new car.
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I haven't driven it, so it's hard to comment. From what I can see, what you say about it punching a bigger hole in the air, it's the logical way to go. It's amazing that most series don't manage to get there, to do that for some reason. But IndyCar went the logical way and it's actually having a great effect on racing.
The spoilers also have helped because the racing is super close. You have to remember that we race in an era where you're not allowed to take risks anymore. But with these cars, the way they are now, the drivers actually are, so it's great.
Q. Jacques, you said that you weren't interested necessarily in going to Toronto. Any chance you'd do the double at Indy?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: The double at Indy? I really didn't look at the schedule. I'm also doing Formula One commentary. Most F1 weekends I'm actually busy. To do Indy, I had to skip Barcelona and Monaco, which are two big F1 races. But everybody understood Indy was a priority.
I would love to do more races. If you just do a one-off, then the Indy 500 is the one to do.
As I said before, when I was watching the races last year, I was angry I wasn't there. I would love to do more races. But this year it would be impossible for me to focus on a full season, so it's good to concentrate on the Indy 500.
Obviously, I would have loved to have done the whole season.
Q. Sam and Ric, what is the timeline on commercial announcements? Did having Jacques' name help assist in that pursuit?
SAM SCHMIDT: That's why we're all here. That's what makes it go around. The first step was to get this announcement out and then work with the commercial partners really hard. Not too long of an order, we'll have some commercial announcements.
We're hoping with Ric's affiliation in Canada, et cetera, our current partners, it will be a big hit. It already has been. We're not concerned about that happening.
THE MODERATOR: Seeing as we have no further questions, we will thank Sam and Ric for their time, and Jacques for dialing in from Andorra. We wish you the best of luck in the month of May with your program.