The second high-profile team in just a few days has pulled up stakes and won't run in this year's first edition of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship but, as one door closes another opens and a championship-winning Grand Am team from a year ago - a Canadian team at that - appears poised to get back into the sport.
First things first.
Level 5 Motorsports, which won the GT Daytona class at the recent Rolex 24 at Daytona, won't run the next race in the SportsCar championship, the iconic 12 Hours of Sebring, according to the team's manager, David Stone.
In 2013, AIM won the last Grand Am Rolex GT class championship (with drivers Segal and Assentato aboard) before the Grand Am and the American Le Mans Series merged to become the United SportsCar Championship. AIM was ready to go again this year but its primary sponsorship went away at just about the last minute and any racing plans for 2014 had to be put on hold.
“I was even there in person when he won the Indy 500 in 1995, and Jacques being the only Canadian to win that huge event, it gave me a huge sense of national pride. It is an honor to have the opportunity to be involved in bringing Jacques back to the '500,' and we look forward to a fantastic result."
Here is an edited transcript of the media conference, as provided by the IndyCar Series:
Q. Jacques, why come back now after so long being away? I think it will be the longest period between starts for any driver?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: There's a few reasons. The first one, it's also a question of opportunity. The opportunity came about with Sam Schmidt. We started talking not long ago, actually a few weeks ago. It all went fast. The discussions happened at the right time because I'd been watching the IndyCars last year, and it looked extremely exciting with the new cars, to the point where I was angry and jealous that I wasn't racing. So that got me going again.
I've been active ever since leaving IndyCar in '95, anyway, with Formula One. I did some NASCAR racing, some other forms of racing, in Australia, different places. I just wasn't considering going back to something I'd already done mostly because there's been a few dark years for IndyCar.
But the whole group behind the series have been working really hard and done a tremendous job because it's getting back to the glory days with the races exciting and also the field of drivers is becoming more and more impressive every year again.
Q. Jacques, over the years you weren't a big fan of the old IndyCar. When was it that you decided this new model and the way the series was set up was going to be leading them out of their 'dark days,' as you called it earlier?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I guess it started when they started going back to road racing, going back to a mix of tracks, going back to the IndyCar that I knew basically. They saw it was time to react, and they did.
Then came this new car, which was quite a surprise with the spoilers and everything. I was dubious until the first time I saw it racing, then I realized how amazing it was, how close the racing was, open-wheel racing that was never heard of. It wasn't accepted anymore in modern days. That's how racing used to be.
When I started seeing that last year, I started getting excited again, just because the racing was amazing, the cars looked fast and aggressive, it looked hard on the drivers, and the battles were fierce, which is all what I love about racing.
Q. You mentioned earlier that things happened pretty fast. You're not young by a racer's standard. You have young kids now. You haven't been in an IndyCar for 20 years. Talk a little bit about the things you considered when you were making this decision to go back to Indy.
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Just that it is the biggest race in the world and that it was exciting. It was a great opportunity. It's a great team, a great car that will be well-prepared. It was a chance to do something good.
You say I'm older in racing, got kids, and actually that's another drive. I'm a racer at heart and I will always be. That's what keeps me going. That's what keeps me alive.
I don't want to be for my kids just the guy that used to race that they can see in books. I want them to see and live what I've already lived, to see it through my doing it actively.
It's actually a positive effect to have kids.
- NORRIS McDONALD