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Jacques Villeneuve to race at this year's Indy 500
The 42-year-old Canadian will drive for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
Villeneuve won the famous race the last time he competed in 1995
Went on to race in Formula One and took 1997 world championship
Jacques Villeneuve has not competed in the Indy 500 since his 1995 triumph in one of motor sport’s most iconic events but at the age of 42 the Canadian will return to the famous Brickyard for this year’s race.
Villeneuve will drive for the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team and, if he qualifies for the race proper on May 25, he will set a new record for the biggest gap between starts, the 19 years surpassing the old mark of 17, jointly held by Cy Marshall and Roland Free between 1930 and 1947.
Villeneuve went on to claim the 1995 IndyCar season championship before moving to Formula One, claiming the 1997 world title and a total of 11 wins from 34 grand prix starts.
Currently an F1 commentator as well as competing in World Rallycross, Villeneuve said he was excited by the prospect of another chance of Indy 500 glory.
“To have the opportunity to return to IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis 500 is something I never thought possible,” Villeneuve told his official website.
Read: Memorable finishes to F1 seasons
“The memories I have there will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I’m excited to create new memories in 2014.”
Villeneueve will partner the ambitious team’s full-time IndyCar drivers Simon Pagenaud of France and Mikhail Aleshin of Russia for the 500-mile (800 km) race on the 2.5 mile (4km) circuit in Indianapolis.
Team principal Sam Schmidt said the acquisition of Villeneuve underlined their ambition as they enter just their third season in IndyCar.
“We’re very pleased to have a driver of the caliber of Jacques in our lineup in May,” Schmidt said.
“He’s a former winner in the event and brings tremendous experience from his success in the world’s top racing series.”
Co-owner Ric Peterson was in the crowd when Villeneuve won the the Indy 500 in 1995.
“Having grown up in Canada, the name Villeneuve is synonymous with winning. and Jacques being the only Canadian to win that huge event, it gave me a huge sense of national pride,” he said.
Villeneuve’s father Gilles won six races during a brief but storied F1 career - until losing his life in an accident at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1982.
His son inherited his flair for motor sport and upon graduating to the IndyCar series in 1994 made an early impression by being named Rookie of the Year.
His 1995 triumphs made him hot property and he was signed by the then dominant Williams team for the 1996 F1 season, finishing runner-up in the title race to teammate Damon Hill of Britain.
The next season came his title success after a titanic battle with Germany’s Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world F1 champion.
Read: Schumacher’s family ‘strongly believe’ he will recover from ski accident
It was to prove the pinnacle of his career and after leaving Williams to drive with BAR, Renault and Sauber, Villeneuve switched to NASCAR racing in 2007.
He is one of only two drivers to have competed in IndyCar, NASCAR Sprint Cup and Formula One.
The other, Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya is returning to IndyCar for the 2014 season with Team Penske.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to compete in several of the world’s top racing series, and nothing excites me more than entering the IndyCar series at its current level of competitiveness,” Villeneuve said.
Villeneuve’s place in Indy 500 history is already assured after his epic drive to win in 1995. He recovered from a mid-race two-lap penalty to beat Brazilian Christian Fittipaldi by over two seconds.
He is likely to be joined on the start line by three-time winner Helio Castroneves of Brazil, two-time winner Scott Dixon of New Zealand, Montoya, who won in 2000, and Brazil’s Tony Kanaan, the defending champion.
If he was to enter Victory Lane, Villeneuve would break Al Unser’s record for the longest gap between first and last victories. Unser went 17 years between his 1970 and 1987 triumphs.