Gilles Villeneuve becomes a world celebrity
Legendary racing car driver Gilles Villeneuve rose from humble origins in a small Quebec town to win hearts around the world in the second most popular sport on earth. A shy, slight, family man who didn't smoke or drink, he was Canada's first Grand Prix winner. His life was tragically cut short at 32 years of age, doing what he loved best. Please note that you won't find racing footage on our site; the International Automobile Federation does not licence F1 footage for use on the Internet.
Villeneuve drives well with Scheckter, and the Ferrari cars and team are also working well. He wins races in Kyalami, South Africa; Long Beach, California; and Watkins Glen, N.Y., as well as posting four second-place finishes. In seven races, he records the fastest single lap time.
Journalists still talk about July 1, 1979 -- the France Grand Prix -- an epic battle for second place. For the last two laps, René Arnoux and Villeneuve zoom dangerously side-by-side, in and out of turns. Villeneuve comes in 24/100ths of a second ahead of Arnoux. They raise their arms to each other in a salute of appreciation. Later there is hot debate over whether they are heroes or idiots but to Gilles Villeneuve the race was a high point in his career.
• Knowing that vision is one of the most important assets for a race car driver, Villeneuve worked hard to improve his peripheral vision, using exercises given him by a Montreal ophthalmologist.
• Very few brave souls would ride in a passenger car with Gilles Villeneuve. Even Jody Scheckter refused to drive to Fiorano (the Ferrari test circuit) with him after the first harrowing ride at top speed through the hills of Italy.
• Villeneuve neither drank nor smoked but he was a walking billboard for Labatt and Marlboro.
• When Villeneuve was a struggling mechanic/driver, he would steal tools from Canadian Tire. He always wanted to repay that debt. His managers arranged for a ghostwriter to do a column using Villeneuve's name so Canadian Tire could collect on his publicity value.
• In 1981 Villeneuve's manager, Gaston Parent, arranged a $2.5 million insurance policy on Villeneuve's life. The annual premium was $30,000. At that time, he was making $1.2 million a year through salary and sponsorships.
Program: Take 30
Broadcast Date: Feb. 26, 1980
Guest(s): Gilles Villeneuve
Interviewer: Hana Gartner
Photo: Reproduced with the permission of Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.
Last updated: January 23, 2012
Page consulted on March 26, 2013
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