At the beginning of each year, NASCAR fans prepare for the big party that kicks off the season's activities: the race week that always takes place at Daytona in Indiana in February, capped off of course by the series' premier event, the Daytona 500.
This year, the event could have a special flavour for Canadian racing fans. Jacques Villeneuve confirmed yesterday that he plans to participate in the event with the Hezeberg team. This would be a first for the young organization, and it’s Villeneuve first try at qualifying for a place on the starting grid of the hallowed race since 2013.
The veteran Quebec driver, now 50, participated in preseason testing on Tuesday and Wednesday in a No. 27 Ford. The number 27 was on father Gilles’ car during his later years in Formula 1 campaigns, but it was also used by Jacques himself during his previous stint in the NASCAR Grand Prix. The number 27 car of the Hezeberg team plans to participate in a partial calendar in 2022.
The timing of Jacques Villeneuve's return to the NASCAR world is interesting, as a new generation of cars is still being tested and will debut at Daytona. That balances out the field a bit and gives lesser-known, newer teams more of a chance to earn a spot in the famed 500-mile event.
“It would be amazing. The last time I was in NASCAR in North America was quite a few years... It will be extremely special because it is also a standout race. It is a very special race to participate in, and it’s hard to get into (the) show when you have to qualify on time or in the duels. So it makes it a bit more stressful, and making the show would already be something special.”
- Jacques Villeneuve
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Recall that several teams (36) have their place already secured because they hold a charter ensuring their participation in the season. This means that there are few places open on the starting grid for "outsiders". In fact, there are four of them, as a total of 40 cars will start.
Jacques Villeneuve has participated in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series for the past two seasons. The driver unofficially stepped out of the shadow of his famous father with a win at the Indianapolis 500 in 1995, and the Formula 1 championship that followed in 1997 cemented his reputation.
The Hezeberg team plans to focus on road course events this year. 2019 Whelen Series European champion Loris Hezemans is the lead driver, but he has not yet been approved to race in the big NASCAR series. Thus the door opened for Jacques Villeneuve to try to qualify at Daytona.
The Daytona 500 is scheduled to be held on February 20.