1995 Indianapolis 500: Villeneuve's First Crown
April 17, 2014 by Jeremy McMullen
In 1966, the Englishman Graham Hill would come through 500 miles at Indianapolis to collect the win. He was already a World Champion in Formula One, and now, a champion at Indianapolis. He would go on to win at Le Mans in the early 1970s making him the only driver in history to have won the three major racing events. In 1995, just one year before the 30th anniversary of Hill's accomplishment, Jacques Villeneuve would overcome a wild and controversial Indy 500 to start his own march toward the triple crown of motorsports.
Never would a Indy 500 appear more wide open. It would be all the talk leading up to the start of the 79th running of the Indianapolis 500 on the 28th of May. Qualifying would see veterans and former winners, like Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr. fail to make it into the field with their Penske cars. Events, such as this, seemed to signal the race was open for anybody to win. And, since the reigning champion, Unser Jr. had not made it into the field it seemed entirely possible the man who finished 2nd in 1994, Villeneuve, could be the man to come through it all.
Jacques, the son of the beloved Gilles, would certainly prove to be the heir-apparent in the motor racing world. Not only would he earn the Rookie of the Year award in IndyCar, but he would also earn the 1994 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honor with his 2nd place result in that year's race. Coming into the 1995 season, Villeneuve would add another victory to his overall tally after scoring victory in the first race of the '95 season.
The speeds in practice and qualifying would be breath-taking, easily pushing above the 230mph average speed mark. The speeds would be down slightly on Pole Day. Still, Scott Goodyear, Arie Luyendyk and Scott Brayton all reached above the 230mph average mark over four laps with the latter taking the pole with an average speed of 231.604mph.
After the completion of qualifying from Pole Day, the fastest runner on the second day of qualifying would be Jacques Villeneuve at 228.397mph. Though Michael Andretti would go quicker, Villeneuve would still end up in the middle of the second row in the 5th position.
The usual fanfare and traditions led up to the start of the race. There would be some concern with a couple of teams as the cars pulled away for the parade laps and it would result in Robby Gordon starting from the pitlane as a result of radio problems and a sticking throttle.
The actual start of the race, which was estimated to be witness by more than 250,000 at the track, would barely make it through the first turn before Stan Fox collected Eddie Cheever in a horrifying accident that would leave Fox with his legs dangling out the front of his car and in a coma. In total, six cars would either be out or would be dealing with damage that needed repaired.
Throughout the early part of the race Michael Andretti showed the way, but, as usual, a battle for the lead with Mauricio Gugelmin would leave him brushing the wall and eventually out of the race. This event would be immediately followed by Scott Sharp spinning coming out of turn four bringing out another caution flag.
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Heading into the second half of the race, Villeneuve was still battling hard to overcome his earlier penalty. The Canadian had also suffered a couple of stalled engines throughout but was still in there fighting. He was back on the lead lap and would be just outside the top ten. His pace would be evident of his intentions as he would be running laps faster than anyone else had throughout the earlier part of the race. He was climbing up steadily, but would have a lot of work still to do. Mauricio Gugelmin would be the leader and would look incredibly strong. His incredible gas mileage suggested he possibly needed one less stop than anyone else to make it to the finish.
Paul Tracy would cause another yellow flag. This would slow and bunch the field. Pitstops would take place and Gugelmin would lose out as a result and would be really never heard of again. Villeneuve would be in 6th place at the 140 lap mark, a phenomenal comeback from the Canadian. Villeneuve would complete the comeback leading a few laps before he would make what would be his final stop…well attempt to stop. Davy Jones' accident would hurt Jacques as his slower pace gave up positions and meant he would lose out when the pitstops were finally completed. It appeared all hope for victory would go out the window when he stalled the engine and the likes of Vasser, Pruett and Goodyear were all on their way through turn one.
Jimmy Vasser and Scott Pruett would be entangled in an incredible fight for the lead. However, Vasser's attempt at a win would come to an end when he found himself out of the groove on lap 170 and would hit the wall. Villeneuve would lose some time as a result of his stop but this yellow, and then the one to follow for Pruett with less than 20 laps remaining, would put him back into contention for the win.
There would be just 10 laps from the checkered flag and Goodyear would be leading behind the pace car. Then, just when it seemed Goodyear would be the Canadian that would take the victory, he would pass the pace car before the green was shown to the field. He would say the pace car was too slow getting off the track. Nonetheless, the green would be shown and Goodyear would be way out front as Villeneuve checked up and had to defend his 2nd place from those behind him.
Goodyear would be far out in front, but a black flag would be shown to Scott. A penalty would destroy Goodyear's chances and Villeneuve would overcome a devastating earlier penalty to be in a position to win. It would be one of the most remarkable and strangest of performances. A day filled with penalties and stalled engines, nobody had ever come from two laps down and won the Indianapolis 500, but then, as any Gilles Villeneuve fan would say, 'Yeah, but you don't known the Villeneuves'.
In front of a roaring crowd and blustery winds, Villeneuve would come down the front stretch for the final time. Crossing the yard of bricks with fist pumping in the air, it would be the ultimate expression of 'take that'. And, just like that, the family comparisons would begin. Jacques Villeneuve would add his name to the list of winners of the Indianapolis 500. What's more, and though it may have only been a dream, he would take his first step toward trying to equal Graham Hill in the chase for motor racing's triple crown.
The caution flag would be a blessing to Villeneuve. Through the first 30 laps of the race Jacques had been running amongst the leaders. Then, in a bizarre incident involving Luyendyk trying to show his displeasure of Sharp, the caution would fly as a result of debris on the track. Pitstops had been taking place at the time and it would be Villeneuve leading the way, but he wouldn't know it. Twice the pace car tried to pick up the number 27 Reynard, but twice Villeneuve would go on by thinking the pace car was trying to pick up someone else. His stop would make things even more frustrating as he would nearly pull away with the fuel hose still attached. Anyway, the issue would be sorted but Jacques would be left with a two lap penalty. When the caution flag flew for Sharp's spin out of turn four, one of those laps Villeneuve would get back.
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'Top 10 Indy 500 Controversies', (http://indycarnation.indycar.com/exclusive-news/2011/05/12/top-10-indy-500-controversies). IndyCar Nation: Official Fan Community. http://indycarnation.indycar.com/exclusive-news/2011/05/12/top-10-indy-500-controversies. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
Wikipedia contributors, '1995 Indianapolis 500', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 March 2014, 14:01 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=1995_Indianapolis_500&oldid=597666596 accessed 27 March 2014
1995 Indianapolis 500. Video. (1995). Retrieved 27 March 2014 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSEPeC5uivs.