Schmidt Peterson Motorsports formally announced today the signing of 1995 Indianapolis 500 champion Jacques Villeneuve to the team's three-entry assault on May's 500-mile race.
"The opportunity came about with Sam Schmidt," said Villeneuve in a post-announcement conference call. "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."
Villeneuve, who finished runner-up his rookie season in 1994, last competed in an open-wheel car on the Indianapolis oval in 1995. 19 years ago. Making the 33-car field will land the Canadian in the record books with the longest period between starts, bettering Cy Marshall and Roland Free's 17-year mark, both set in 1947. With a start, Team Penske's Juan Pablo Montoya will jump to 5th on the list behind Villeneuve, Free, Marshall and Michel Jourdain's 16-year gap set in 2012.
"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."
The 42-year-old's entry joins Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya and Buddy Lazier as former winners expected to attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
Temporally entered with the number 5, the sponsorship package is still being put together and will be announced on a later date.