Some are called Maurice Richard, others are called Gilles Villeneuve. For better or for worse.
• Read also: Miami remembers a generation
• Read also: Gilles Villeneuve, 40: The Drama in Zolder
• Read also: Gilles Villeneuve, 40: “I think about him every day”
We join Gilles Villeneuve who, coincidentally, also has this passion for motorsports that he practices on many levels, including that of a racing driver.
At 63, he is now the head coach and advisor for Auto Sport Québec, the organization that runs motor racing in the province while it was a subsidiary of Quebec’s National Sports Authority (ASN) within the FIA.
He has also been a safe motorist at Circuit Mont-Tremblant since 1988.
Over the years, he has also been involved in many organisations, as a volunteer, including the Canadian Grand Prix from 1981 to 2018.
When Villeneuve tragically lost his namesake life 40 years ago, he was already interested in motor racing.
And he remembers that sad May 8, 1982 well.
“I was driving,” he said in an interview. register. It wasn’t funny. Quebec was in shock. After his death I decided to get more involved in motorsports. »
With this famous name, our interlocutor did not hide that he had invented another identity in order to stop teasing.
“I remember, he says, that we, the workers, used to get together after the Canadian Grand Prix, and have a beer or two. There were always people in the group, especially when they were starting to have success, and they relished the desire to present… Gilles Villeneuve To his acquaintances. He was unmissable.”
“At some point, I decided to call myself… Lucien Gravel. This muzzle operation which lasted for thirty years. »
Mr Villeneuve has never met the man who conquered the people of Quebec on the F1 stage, but he has met Jacques on several occasions.
“I saw his son a lot when I attended the Grands Prix, including Abu Dhabi in 2019. I also gave him driving licenses when he was karting. I also did the same with Jill’s brother.”
Gilles Villeneuve has a well-stocked photo album, including this shot with Jacques Villeneuve.
In 1997, the Canadian Grand Prix was shortened to 54 laps after the fatal accident of Frenchman Olivier Banes.
“It took lifeguards several minutes to get him out of his single seat, Villeneuve recalls, and we decided to finish the race. I was driving the safety car at the time.”
In front of Michael Schumacher
“I often joke that I am the only Gilles Villeneuve to cross the finish line on the front row… Gilles Villeneuve. It was special to see all the cars behind, including the winner, Michael Schumacher, when the square flag was waved! »
For the record, when Quebec won the Montreal Grand Prix in 1978, the track didn’t bear his name. She was baptized in his name four years after his tragic death. Mr. Villeneuve also remembers that one day he went to visit the Ferrari factory in Maranello.
He says: “When the staff saw my name, it was kind of funny. I quickly measured how popular Gilles Villeneuve was in Italy.”
Gilles Villeneuve joined last week, and had just returned from two humanitarian missions in Europe in a war zone.
“I am the first medical responder of the Red Cross,” he explains. I went to Poland for the first time to help refugees from Ukraine. The scene was awful. We complain when we have to wait a few minutes for service in a mall, so imagine when the poor have to wait days long to cross the border. »
When he got home, he contracted COVID-19, but once he recovered, he left on a second assignment.
And he concludes, “When I saw the atrocities committed by the Russian army in Bucha, I was invited by Ukraine.” This is where I decided to return. In total, I spent 22 days there and am so glad I did my part. »
▶ Gilles Villeneuve will return to competition this summer when he takes part in a few Super Production Challenge events, including the scheduled stage for the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières in August.