Jacques Villeneuve has succeeded in his bid to qualify for the Daytona 500, 14 years after his previous attempt.
The 1997 Formula 1 World Champion has mainly been a NASCAR racer since his final grand prix appearance for Sauber in 2006, most recently in the Whelen Euro Series.
Driving a Ford for the recently-founded Team Hezeberg, the Canadian decided to give the Daytona 500 a go for the first time since 2008 at this week’s qualifying time trials – and unlike the last occasion, when he crashed, he made it through into the line-up.
The race itself will take place on Sunday, starting at 19:30 GMT.
Six cars took part in the time trials and the Associated Press report Villeneuve’s machine needed three tries to pass NASCAR inspection.
But once out on the track, the 50-year-old clocked a faster time than all of his rivals and celebrated wildly, jogging down the pit lane to find his crew and dish out the high-fives.
— Team Hezeberg (@TeamHezeberg) February 16, 2022
“To be able to make such a big race at such a high level is amazing and when I’m in the race car I don’t realise I’m 50, which is good,” said the former Williams and BAR racer. “As long as it carries on like this, I can’t imagine myself stopping racing.
“It’s satisfying and amazing because there are quite a few times I’ve been hearing ‘come on, you’re past it, just give up’.
“No, the hunger has never stopped…until the day when I guess you start getting your foot off the throttle because you get a bit scared or you don’t get that adrenalin rush anymore as a positive thing. That’s when you should stop.”
Villeneuve recently became a father for the fifth time, his partner Giulia giving birth to a son – whom they named after the driver’s father, Gilles, who was killed in an F1 qualifying accident at Zolder when Jacques was only 11.
The three of them are all in Florida along with the driver’s two eldest children, who are taking time out from schooling in Switzerland.
Asked about his choice of the name Gilles for the latest addition to the family, Villeneuve said: “Maybe by the time I was 50 I was ready.
“It took a while to get to that point because he wasn’t a very present father. It was different days back then, so I guess I had a lot to digest and at this point in my life I was ready to do that and it felt right.”