Despite past, Villeneuve has no fear INDIANAPOLIS 500

May 25, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jacques Villeneuve doesn't play golf, which instantly sets him apart from nearly every other driver in the Indianapolis 500.

"I'm too competitive," said the rookie. "To go golfing would not be relaxing. Everything I do, I want to win. It would be just too frustrating."

Villeneuve demonstrated this resolve the first day drivers were allowed to qualify for the 78th Indianapolis 500. He put his Player's International Reynard/Ford on the inside of Row 2 by compiling a four-lap average of 226.259 mph. It was a performance that made him the fastest of nine rookies in Sunday's race.

Yesterday, at the 20th annual American Dairy Association of Indiana Fastest Rookie Luncheon, the 23-year-old son of the late, great Formula One driver Gilles Villeneuve collected all the loot ($5,000, a plaque and trophy) that went with his rookie performance.

"He's very complex and extremely concentrated," said Craig Pollock, who has known Villeneuve since he taught him skiing as a 12-year-old and who now handles his business affairs. "When he sets a goal, he works directly toward it. And yet, he's not an extrovert. In fact, he is a very timid person."

Six years ago, Villeneuve decided to follow in his father's footsteps, and go full time into motor sports, if not Formula One.

He competed in three races in the Alfa Italian Tourism Championship in 1988, moved to Formula Three from 1989 through 1991 in Italy; then moved on to the Formula Three series in Japan, where he finished second in points, and saw his first Indy Car race on television. Last year, he ran in all 15 races in the Player's Ltd./Toyota Atlantic Championship series, won five races and finished third in the points race.

"When I was in Japan, I got to practice in a Le Mans car that goes faster than Indy cars," he said. "It was so fast and it felt so good. When I got to get in the Indy car this season, I thought, 'Finally, I did something.'

"I could have gone Formula One, but decided it was better in Indy cars, and now, after what's happened over there [two deaths over the last month], I know this was the right decision."

Jacques Villeneuve was only 12 years old and a student at the College Beau Soleil in Switzerland when his father was thrown from his race car and killed while qualifying for a Formula One race in Belgium.

"I don't mind talking about it," Villeneuve said. "I don't remember very much about my father. I don't know if I'm like him at all. I don't want to be compared. I'm really very independent. My own person."

When his father died, Jacques was becoming a very good skier, and it wasn't until six years ago that he finally decided to be a full-time race car driver and not a pro skier.

"My father died happily, doing what he wanted to do, what he loved to do," said Jacques, the youngest driver in Sunday's race. "His accident didn't put me off the sport. And I'm not afraid when I'm in the race car.

"If you have fear, you can't give yourself completely to what you're doing, because the fear would intrude and you would lose your confidence.

"I've never felt fear. I've been in a few big crashes, but even while I was in them I wasn't afraid and I've never hurt myself."

The fastest rookie shrugged.

"Maybe it's wrong not to be afraid," he said. "But I haven't ever been."

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