One of the most successful competitors is about to take on a different challenge. 1997 Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve has announced his intention to drive in the 2022 Daytona 500 on February 20.
The Quebec native made the announcement during the second of two days of Next Gen testing at Daytona International Speedway. He met with media members on January 12 and explained that he wants to make his first NASCAR Cup Series start since the Sonoma race in 2013. Team Hezeberg, a first-year team also featuring NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion Loris Hezemans, will provide him with this opportunity.
“It would be amazing,” Villeneuve said, quote transcript courtesy of NASCAR Media. “The last time I was in NASCAR in North America was quite a few years, I think it was Sonoma the last time so it was a lot of years ago. It will be extremely special because it is also a standout race. It is a very special race to participate in, and it’s hard to get into the show when you have to qualify on time or in the duels. So it makes it a bit more stressful, and making the show would already be something special.”
Team Hezeberg is a collaboration between former sports-car driver Toine Hezemans, Dutch businessman Ernst Berg, and Reaume Brothers Racing. Hezemans will be the primary driver of the No. 27 Ford Mustang during the part-time season as he focuses on the road courses. Though NASCAR has not yet issued approval for him to compete in the Cup Series.
Villeneuve Has Several Starts Across the National Series
Villeneuve, who also won the 1995 Indy 500, has competed in several NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series, Truck Series, and Euro events during his racing career. He has four starts in the Cup Series — Talladega Superspeedway and Phoenix Raceway in 2007, Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2010, and Sonoma Raceway in 2013. Villeneuve also attempted to qualify for the 2008 Daytona 500 with Bill Davis Racing, but he did not make the final entry list.
Villeneuve has also made nine starts in the Xfinity Series, split between Road America, Watkins Glen, and Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, a track named after his late father. Villeneuve finished top-five once at Watkins Glen and three separate times at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, including a third-place run in 2012 for Team Penske in which he led 43 laps.
The 50-year-old driver also made seven starts in the Truck Series during the 2007 season while driving for Bill Davis Racing. He posted four top-25 finishes during his lone year in the Truck Series, including a season-best finish of 14th at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
While Villeneuve has not competed in a national series race since 2013, he has continued to test his skills in stock car racing. He has spent the past two seasons competing in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series alongside Hezemans. His list of starts includes back-to-back wins in the NASCAR GP Italy to cap off the 2021 season.
Team Hezeberg Joins Other Open Teams Pursuing a Spot on the Grid
Villeneuve will not be the only driver trying to qualify for the Daytona 500 in an unchartered entry. He joins multiple other drivers that will aim for a spot on the starting grid.
Beard Motorsports, a team with four Daytona 500 starts, announced on November 16 that the No. 62 Chevrolet Camaro will return for the season-opening race with Xfinity Series driver Noah Gragson behind the wheel. The team nearly secured a spot in the 2020 Daytona 500 with Gragson as the driver, but a crash in the Duels ended his attempt.
Similarly, MBM Motorsports announced on January 11 that Timmy Hill will drive the No. 66 in the Daytona 500 with Bumper.com as his primary partner. The Maryland native celebrated the news while taking part in the two-day Next Gen testing session at Daytona International Speedway.
With the Daytona 500 serving as the biggest event on the schedule, the expectation is that multiple unchartered teams will try to qualify for the Crown Jewel race. Beard Motorsports, Team Hezeberg, and MBM Motorsports are the only teams that have openly expressed their intentions to compete, but others should join them in the coming weeks.