With 27 days remaining until the 100th Anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500, SB Nation Indiana is starting its countdown of the Greatest 33, the ultimate Indianapolis 500 field. Fans can build their own field by clicking here. Today, SB Nation Indiana looks at a driver who was but a brief blur on the Indycar stage, Jacques Villeneuve.
Selfishly, Jacques Villeneuve makes it onto the grid because he was the driver I had in the 1995 Indianapolis 500 pool. So, since he won me $75 (or whatever it was at the time), he makes the list. But on talent alone, Villeneuve showed enough in two years at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway earn inclusion in the Greatest 33.
I also traded for Jacques Villeneuve in 1994, swapping Al Unser Jr. in the pool for the talented rookie (that one cost me money as Unser Jr. went on to take his second 500). 1994 saw Team Penske introduce the revolutionary pushstroke engines, allowing the team to dominate most of the month of May. However, Villeneuve displayed his talent, qualifying fourth with a rookie team (Team Green) at Indianapolis. The Canadian went on to pick up Rookie of the Year honors, finishing second to Unser Jr. and leading seven laps.
By 1995, storm clouds were on the horizon at Indianapolis, with the Indy Racing League poised to begin competition in 1996, leaving the future of CART in doubt. For all intents and purposes, the 1995 500 was the end of an era in American open-wheel racing, and one of the wildest 500s in the history of IMS.
Qualifying in the middle of Row 2, Villeneuve received a two-lap penalty on Lap 50 for passing the pace car after failing to realize he was the leader of the race. However, he was back on the lead lap just 66 laps later, thanks to a fortuitous series of yellow flags - Scott Goodyear's stall on Lap 80 gave Villeneuve his first lap back and the 24-year old caught a break as a yellow came out on Lap 120 when Villeneuve was looking at a green flag stop that would have put him back a lap.
Sitting in fourth, Villeneuve saw Jimmy Vasser and Scott Pruett wreck while trying to catch Goodyear, leaving the Canadians to fight for the win. On Lap 190, it was Goodyear who blinked, passing the pace car before the race returned to green; refusing to head the black flag penalty, Goodyear was stopped scoring after 195 laps, handing the lead, and the race, to Villeneuve.
Taking the checkered flag after driving 202 laps, Villeneuve brought Team Green to Victory Lane for the first of three times (2005 - Dan Wheldon, 2007 - Dario Franchitti). Following in his father's footsteps, Villeneuve would soon be off to Formula 1, collecting the 1998 world championship, eventually returning to IMS for the 2000 United States Grand Prix.
The Greatest 33:
29. Jacques Villeneuve
30. Danny Sullivan
31. Tony Kanaan
32. Michael Andretti
33. Eddie Sachs