“Every now and then something happens like that, and you do not expect that rush of emotions. And all of a sudden, there they are.”Joann Villeneuve, wife of late Formula 1 legend, Gilles Villeneuve; mother of Canada’s only Formula 1 Champion, Jacques Villeneuve
Joann Villeneuve, wife of the late great Formula 1 legend Gilles Villeneuve and mother of Canada’s only Formula 1 Champion, Jacques Villeneuve, recently took a trip down memory lane. She attended the VARAC (Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada) Vintage Grand Prix held at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
Amongst the historic racing series that comprised the weekend’s activities was the FIA Masters Historic Formula One series. The Masters USA provides a venue for classic Formula 1 car owners to compete against each other at world class race circuits in Canada, the United States and Mexico. The series is largely comprised of Formula 1 cars from 1966 through 1985. Not only do these cars sound great, but they are also beautiful to behold, as they must run in their correct period livery.
Joann Villeneuve waving the green flag to start the race
Joann Villeneuve and Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame inductee Eppie Wietzes were the Grand Marshals. Joann’s duties included signing enthusiastic fans’ memorabilia at an autograph session, waving the green flag from atop the starter’s stand to start the race, and presenting the trophies at the victory podium. But the highlights of her day were seeing and hearing her late husband’s car out on the track again, and, for the first time in her life, sitting in one of Gilles Villeneuve’s Formula 1 cars.
“The emotion of sitting in Gilles’ car, that was really something special,” said Joann Villeneuve. “Every now and then something happens like that, and you do not expect that rush of emotions. And all of a sudden, there they are. I was not expecting that. I also felt that when I was waving the green flag and I was watching (Gilles’) car go by. Just to see and hear the car go by and you say ‘this was my husband’s car, he sat in this car’. And then when I sat in the car and touched the steering wheel that he touched. You think you have put those emotions aside and away, but they are still there. It was a lot of emotions today. It really was nice.”
Joann Villeneuve sitting in her late husband’s F1 car for the first time
“To see how much the man I loved touched so many people,” said Joann. “Obviously he touched me, he was the man of my life, the love of my life, but to see that he touched so many people, for some reason, Gilles touched them more than other drivers. That’s pretty special.”
This Gilles Villeneuve F1 car is owned by the Baker family and is part of a collection in Sun Valley, Idaho. The owner’s son, Californian Danny Baker, drives the car. Danny’s father had the opportunity to buy the Ferrari 15 years ago from the Jacobazzi family who had previously acquired it directly from Ferrari.
“I have the racer mentality so I want it to go quick and I want to compete with it and yet I have to respect it as much as possible,” said Danny Baker. “I got into a tussle (on the track) with a guy and he managed to get into me today. He gave me a little bump and I made sure he knew it was not appreciated. It is really fun to run out here and it is great to see everyone go just crazy for the car.” During every lap of the track Danny could see appreciative spectators taking photographs of the car and waving him on.
Danny Baker (R)
Of the 16 Formula 1 cars participating in the races, Danny finished 3rd in class in the first race and 4th in class in the second race. He was very happy to have been able to complete every lap of every session. It is a surprisingly reliable car but it takes a great deal of time, and money, to keep running properly.
Also on hand was Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame inductee Ron Fellows, one of the owners of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Ron is one of Canada’s most successful race car drivers, winning in series from NASCAR to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Daytona. But Ron never raced in Formula 1. “Surreal, magic and exhilarating,” was how Ron described what it was like to sit in Gilles’ car.
“It wasn’t on my bucket list because I would never think to put it on, but when Danny (Baker) confirmed that he was going to bring the car, that’s all I wanted to do, was sit in it,” Ron went on to say. “A big thank you to Danny baker, he was not planning on coming here after the Montreal race, but I kept on him, for five days, twice a day, phone calls, text messages, and he finally agreed to come. It was absolutely magic to have it here.”
When asked if he could imagine racing one of these cars, Ron shared his admiration of the “…incredible skill and bravery they had to drive those cars. The bodywork gives you a false sense of security, the tub of the car is basically at your hips. They are spectacular cars, it’s an era that I grew up watching, as a kid and a young man I idolized Gilles along with millions of others. To have Joann here and then to actually get to park my butt in it was incredibly special. I will treasure that for as long as I live.”
To reunite Joann with Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari Formula 1 car was the icing on the cake of what was a very successful VARAC Vintage Grand Prix weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (or Mosport as it is fondly referred to).
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