MEDIABALAP.com (Jakarta) – One of the biggest stars in this year’s FIA WEC driver roster is former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve who will drive for Floyd Vanwall Racing Team as the squad makes its Hypercar debut.
We spoke to the Canadian driver to find out how his Hypercar campaign came about, what he sees as his biggest challenge in endurance racing and his aims for the season ahead.
Hi Jacques, welcome to the WEC. Can you tell us how your relationship with Vanwall came about and why you’ve decided to join the WEC this season?
“We were talking a little bit in our F1 days so we had some chats but it mainly happened through a mutual friend… My goal was to get back into full-time professional racing and not just do the odd races that I’ve been doing for the last 15 years, a few races in NASCAR, a few other races here and there. It’s always been a key goal of mine – to go for the Triple Crown. My friend said that he thought Vanwall was building up a team. The next day I flew to Barcelona to test the car. So, it was really a matter of timing.
“I also think this is the best time to get involved in the WEC – the championship is getting bigger and bigger. And right now with all the constructors coming in it’s really stepping up as a World Championship. I’m excited for the season ahead.”
You’re an extremely versatile driver with experience across various motorsport disciplines including F1, IndyCar and rallycross to name but a few but what do you foresee as your biggest challenge in the WEC?
“The biggest challenge is working with other drivers and sharing a car – I’ve always been extremely specific on the setups of a car and how I like to drive it. For me it’s been about fine tuning and that’s not something you can do when you share the car with two other drivers as every driver has a specific way of driving – you have to make compromises and you have to decide as a group. How much can you personally give up in your own setup without damaging yourself too much but at the same time, which also helps the others. That’s very difficult and it’s the opposite of what I’ve been doing throughout my career where you really go for that extra little tenth or two in the car.”
On the subject of teammates, how well do you know Tom [Dillmann] and Esteban [Guerrieri]. Have you had much experience with them so far?
“I only met Esteban at the test. Tom, I knew him a little bit when he was doing Formula Two. I always thought highly of him so I’m very happy that he will be in the car.”
You tested the Vanwall Vanderwell 680 recently in Barcelona. How did it go and what were your first impressions of Hypercar machinery?
“It was fun to drive. It’s a heavy car and it’s fast. It wasn’t easy to drive but the car was still in its infancy. So, there was still a lot to do on balance and the car was a little bit surprising at moments as it would catch you out which could make it difficult for six or eight hour race. There’s still a lot of work to do but the basics of it are there. There is definitely potential for the car to be competitive and what you want ultimately, is an easy car to drive and in endurance racing, a car that does not break down.”
You mentioned before about how you’ve competed at Le Mans before. What are your memories of that event and what are you most looking forward to about your return there this year?
“It’s a mixture of good and bad. We had an extremely fast car but the reason why I wasn’t smiling on the podium is we actually managed to lose the race. So, it was a terrible second place. Sometimes you can fight through adversity and finish second and get an amazing result. But this was a race we should have won and we managed to finish second. So, for that reason, it was extremely disappointing.”
Is there anyone you’re specifically looking forward to competing against this season?
“Well, too bad Tom Kristensen is not racing! He would have been the guy to beat and also because we used to be teammates in Japan when I was racing there… we’re still good friends. It would have been amazing to race against him. Other than that, there’s a few champions in in the series which is good as it’s not just a bunch of newcomers. There’s a lot of drivers to look up to and beat and that always gives more credibility and more value. Our aim is to be competitive and to see where we are with the team and the car because it’s a big unknown right now.”
Finally, we go to seven venues with the WEC this season. Which ones are you most looking forward to and why?
“Am I supposed to say something else?! Of course, the Jewel… the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Although, the good thing about the WEC is the other races are becoming are becoming bigger. So, the whole championship is getting value outside of Le Mans which is super important. Other than that, I would say maybe Portimao – I’ve never been there. The track there looks fun and I guess you’re by the beach so that’s never a bad thing!”
Villeneuve and the Floyd Vanwall Racing Team will get their 2023 Hypercar campaign underway at next month’s WEC season-opener, the 1000 Miles of Sebring, on 17 March. (fiawec/wto)