Jacques Villeneuve. 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner and CART IndyCar champion, who went on to win the 1997 F1 World Championship, is reportedly considering a comeback to open-wheel racing to chase the $5m bonus on offer from the IZOD IndyCar Series to an "outsider" who can win the season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
AUTOSPORT reports that Villeneuve is in discussions with IndyCar regarding one of the five "wild card" spots that will be available for the Oct. 16 race. Villeneuve had not raced in North American open-wheel racing since quitting CART for F1 with Williams in 1996 and, barring a brief flirtation with Lotus last year, has generally dismissed prospects for returning, preferring instead to focus on NASCAR racing. He has made 15 starts across all three tiers of NASCAR's national series over the past four years.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard has declined to spell out the exact criteria for eligibility for the wild-card places in the Vegas race, which will be decided by a committee this summer out of all applications from interested parties. Bernard would not divulge who is in the running, but said he has been pleased with he initial reaction to his idea.
"It's been fun to see," said Bernard. "I've had inquiries from some pretty big drivers, which is pretty exciting. The five guys that we choose will be five guys who help our sport. I'm trying to build the credibility of our sport – just as hard as it was for Juan Pablo Montoya and Sam Hornish to go to NASCAR, it's the same for the other drivers to come to our sport. If another driver comes over here and beats us, it means there are some great drivers out there."
Bernard played down the suggestion, made by Montoya and Tony Stewart, among others, that it would be too difficult for NASCAR drivers to combine the Las Vegas race with the Sprint Cup race at Charlotte on the Saturday night of the same weekend.
"It's very do-able," he insisted. "If the race ends at Charlotte at 11 p.m. and you are on a plane from there at midnight, you will land at 1 a.m. in Vegas. That gives you 10 hours."
Bernard added that suggestions the guest stars would lack sufficient seat time to be competitive are also wide of the mark: "We will provide practice time for these guys in the late summer, so I think it can be done."
Bernard said he is confident that IndyCar teams will be prepared to run extra cars for the event, and said he has had a call from Chip Ganassi backing his idea.
"That means a lot, because Chip never calls and offers a compliment," he said.