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  • Writer's pictureR. Villeneuve

My Journey Through Racing - Part 1

“Stay Focused”

It is no secret that The Verizon Festival of Speed at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on May 15-17th, 2009, marked my first outing in top-level sports car competition in 5 years. The last time I raced was in Speed World Challenge, in an uncompetitive car with an uncaring team.

The months leading up to the race were dominated by preparations, for which I was grateful, for left to my own thoughts I surely would have become my own worst enemy. Until last month I had never driven a purpose-built, race-ready Porsche.  All my 20 years of experience had landed me in single-seaters or front engine/rear-drive race cars.  I also knew it would be physically demanding, so there was a need to accelerate my physical and mental capacities.

Some might ask, why the 5-year break?  Well, there are a few reasons and I really don’t mind sharing them although they may surprise some of you.

First and foremost is money, which is a double-edged sword.  Money is required to race, and money is required to live, which presents a vicious cycle. In order to race, you need funding.  In the environment of racing these days, the team owners are trying to run a business, and it isn’t good business to give away for free what others will pay for.  So, owners don’t put drivers in a seat unless someone is paying the bill for that seat.  That money can come from a few sources - in decreasing order of likelihood - the driver, who brings his own funding, a sponsor (usually by way of a family business relation), a real sponsor (and these are harder to find than a living T-Rex), or a factory (as in the case of a few lucky and very talented - not to mention young - drivers, who have the eye and wallet of a manufacturer) or, in my case, the last and most unlikely place to find funding: the tremendous and genuine character that is Monsieur Henri Richard! Only a man of his character would find it in his heart and mind to take up serious racing at age 53, especially with a coach/co-driver of 39, the latter not having raced in 5 years! (You’ll have to ask him yourself why he did it).

The second part of that double-edged sword is that you need money to live.  It takes time to find a gentleman such as Henri and build a relationship, and in the mean time you need to eat and live…so you have to work.  If you have a “real job” then that is what you do, but you are not a racing driver.  If you are a racing driver, well, then you don’t have a real job.  It’s that simple.  That leads we drivers down a different path than most.  We must find a job to pay the bills while keeping our hands and minds in racing, so one goes to work at a racing school. But schools are at racing tracks…which are rarely in populated areas, let alone nice places to live.

Starting to get the picture?

Not that any of this is difficult if you have the passion to drive, but it does differ from the norm, and it makes life complicated, unless of course one is young enough not to have any real obligations or responsibilities.  So back to the question…..why the 5 year break?  Partly it was that I was disheartened by the world of racing.  One works so hard to get there, and then when you do, the odds are against you to win.  When it doesn’t end with a trophy, the world of racing doesn’t care, and sometime even when you win the trophy, they still don’t.  Who finished 2nd last year at the Indy 500?

See my point?

I was also trying to make a living and support my 2 beautiful girls - aged 11 and 6.  I have a responsibility to do that, which, despite my passion for racing, I will never ignore.  So now you know.  I haven’t raced in 5 years because I needed to make a living, couldn’t find funding or sponsorship, and was generally disheartened…until 2 years ago.  What was clear was that I couldn’t let go of it.  Call it unfinished business, call it childhood dreams, it doesn’t matter what you call it.

I wasn’t ready to give up!

To Be Continued...

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