Local favorite Jacques Villeneuve earned the pole position for the Nationwide Series race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Friday. He will have some familiar company in the front row, too.
Villeneuve used his last lap in the last six-car qualifying group to post the best time of 1 minute, 41.8 seconds in qualifying for Saturday’s race. He edged Penske Dodge teammate and fellow Canadian Alex Tagliani, whose best time was 1:41.935.
The 40-year-old Villeneuve is driving the No. 22 Dodge that Kurt Busch used to win last week at Watkins Glen. He said he feels he has the best cars on the track for the first time since he edged Michael Schumacher for the 1997 Formula One title during his time with Williams Renault.
”We knew we had prepared the car and we’d be up there fighting,” he said. ”We’re still at the Elkhart Lake setup (in June), so you can just relax and concentrate on driving the car well instead of finding gremlins in the car or trying to invent a new setup overnight.”
It was Villeneuve’s first pole position in any series since he won 10 of them in 1997.
And now he has a chance to win a race on the track named after his father, Gilles, for the first time since 1993 in the Formula Atlantic series. He was second to teammate Damon Hill in his first attempt in 1996 with Williams, but never came close again in F1.
It’s the first time two Canadians will start at the front for a NASCAR national series event, which includes Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Trucks.
Both were imported by Penske for one of the few road course races in Nationwide.
Tagliani is driving the No. 12, which is the number his childhood idol, Gilles Villeneuve, had when he won the Canadian Grand Prix in F1 on the same track in 1978. Gilles Villeneuve died in a crash at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1982.
”I’ll just try to make no mistakes because I find it really easy to get into trouble in these cars,” Tagliani said. ”It’s so easy to overdrive them and make mistakes.
”In qualifying, usually I don’t think, I just push. Here, I had to think about where to brake, I was looking at the dash. But we were able to show the Penske cars are fast.”
Jason Leffler was third and Scott Speed fourth, both in Chevrolets.
Patrick Carpentier of Joliette, Quebec, who is in his final race before retirement, qualified eighth.