Former F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve is a race winner again – in the NASCAR Euro Series.
The Canadian triumphed in a dramatic opening race of finals weekend at the Vallelunga circuit north of Rome.
Racing for the Academy Motorsport/Alex Caffi Motorsport team, Villeneuve has achieved several podium finishes and was second at Vallelunga last year.
But now he has tasted victory, although that prospect looked to be in jeopardy when the 50-year-old was ruled to have moved ahead of pole-sitter Alon Day at the rolling start and was given a five-second penalty.
Villeneuve then passed Day under braking for the first corner and pulled away from the opposition, holding a 5.2-second lead beginning the final lap.
By the chequered flag, he had extended the gap to 6.3sec over Vittorio Ghirelli, who was battling Gianmarco Ercoli until the finish.
VICTORY LANE in #EuroNASCAR!
A fantastic win for Jacques Villeneuve in Italy, overcoming a 5 second penalty to finish P1!
— Jacques Villeneuve News (@VilleneuveNews) October 30, 2021
“Finally…it’s been a long time coming”, said Villeneuve, quoted by Motorsport.com. “We have been fighting at the front a lot and the car was good in the race. We had a hard time in practice, but in qualifying the car was really amazing.
“I got a penalty at the start, I’m not sure why because the rules say ‘go’ on green, so I must have missed something in the rulebook, so I’ll go check. But a good thing I jumped the start because I didn’t have the horsepower against Alon, which was obvious until Turn 1.
“I guess having raced so much on ovals in the States, I didn’t have to lift on the outside of Turn 1 there. I just went for it and Alon lifted.”
In the points race there was also drama as series leader Loris Hezemans punted Day out of the race. Hezemans finished 10th after serving a drive-through penalty, allowing Ghirelli to close within five points of him ahead of Sunday’s final round.
Hezemans plans to compete in all of the NASCAR Cup Series’ road course events in 2022 for the new Team Hezeberg squad, and the Dutchman will race at other oval tracks when he has been approved by NASCAR.
Villeneuve, whose F1 world title triumph came in 1997 for Williams, tested the team’s Next Gen car at the Charlotte Roval earlier this month and set the 12th fastest time, but also damaged it against the wall when rejoining the oval section.