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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Canada's Villeneuve feels rivalries aren't quite as intense as in his early days

TORONTO - Jacques Villeneuve's glory days came at a time when heated rivalries ruled auto racing. But the legendary Canadian driver feels there's a little too much love on the track these days.

"You need rivalries," he said Tuesday. "This whole thing about, 'Oh we all love each other.' When two teammates are at the podium, and the one who is second is so happy that his teammate beat him — no I'm sorry, I don't buy it. It's fake. It's the political correctness of this modern era and it's terrible. I don't think the fans like that.

"What does it say? It means don't fight for what you want. It's a terrible message. What you want is to see rivalries and fighting. People pissed off that they didn't win. ... that's a little bit missing and I don't know why it's gone this way."

Villeneuve's Formula One battles with Michael Schumacher were the stuff of legend in the mid-1990s. It helped fuel the sport's buzz on and off the track.

"It makes people either love you or hate you," Villeneuve said. "But it doesn't leave anybody indifferent."

The 43-year-old driver is making a return to the Indy 500 this weekend. He finished 27th in qualifying last week. Ed Carpenter has the pole position for Sunday's race while James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, Ont., and Will Power will join him on the front row.

The current IndyCar lineup boasts an impressive array of drivers but the rivalries aren't quite as intense as when Villeneuve and Schumacher used to go at it on the F1 circuit. Power, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves and Justin Wilson are some of the veterans on the circuit while rising stars Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti are also in the mix.

And while they have their moments, it's not quite the same as the days when two drivers stood out from the field and would regularly go to war with each other from stop to stop.

Villeneuve feels that good rivalries can give the sport a boost.

"Whenever you see that, it does, because suddenly it gets people interested in the human aspect of the sport," he said. "People want to see a good show, but they're interested if they have heroes. When you don't have that, suddenly it gets boring and unexciting.

"It just becomes normal instead of being something special."

Villeneuve has dabbled in a number of racing series over the last few years. He has tried his hand at broadcasting and is hoping to eventually finish recording his next music album.

His immediate focus is preparing for Sunday's big race. It has made Villeneuve's busy season even more hectic but it's a change of pace that he welcomes.

"It's like when you've been single for a while, no women will want you," he said. "But suddenly if you're not single, then suddenly you're attractive and it's the same thing with racing. If you're sitting on your bum at home, you're meaningless. But the minute you start doing something, suddenly it doesn't stop and you run out of time and you have to start saying no to things.

"It's a good problem to have."

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports hired Villeneuve for the Indy race in late February. The Canadian driver won the Indy 500 in 1995 and took the overall CART title that year before moving to Formula One the following season.

He would spend a decade on the F1 circuit, finishing second in the championship standings in 1996 and taking top spot in 1997. In 2007, Villeneuve moved on to stock cars and has raced in NASCAR events, Le Mans 24 Hours and in the Speedcar series in recent years.

This season he has competed for Albatec Racing in the FIA World Rallycross Championship.

"I haven't stopped racing," he said. "I've been in race cars almost every year but it's great to be back at those (Indy) speeds. The Indy 500 is the biggest race in the world so it's a really special event to be a part of."

The Canadian's eyes lit up when asked about the competition and what drives him in the twilight of his career. It's clear he's not treating his return to Indy as a nostalgic race down memory lane.

"At Indy you never know," he said of his chances. "When I won it 19 years ago, we were two laps down. So that's why, with my engineer, we decided to concentrate purely on the race setup and working in traffic."

Villeneuve described the IndyCar series as a little bit different, a tad more complex and just as exciting as when he last raced in it.

"You need a car that runs well when you're close to other cars," he said. "So that way you don't need to back out of the gas too much because as soon as you back out a little bit, you lose your momentum and you're done."

He will return to Rallycross after Sunday's race but his days of bouncing between events and series may soon come to an end. Villeneuve said he would consider a single full-time ride next season if the right situation presented itself.

"Right now I really want to concentrate — at least for next year — to do a full season in something in a professional category," he said. "Right now I'm concentrating on the Rallycross but I cannot do all the races. There's a race (this) weekend and I'm (at Indy) instead. But a full season in IndyCar, why not? The series is picking up again."

Villeneuve, from Iberville, Que., and teammate Simon Pagenaud were all smiles Tuesday as they sat in matching Muskoka chairs for an availability at a Honda Indy Toronto media event. It was a quick trip — they flew in from Indianapolis in the morning and were scheduled to head back in the evening.

It was just the latest stop in a whirlwind 2014 for Villeneuve.

"The issue I have had is since January I've been travelling every week," he said. "I've been doing some TV commentary for F1, some Rallycross, I didn't have the time to really focus on the 500 as much as I was wanting to until I actually physically got there."

His busy racing schedule has also pushed his musical pursuits to the back burner. However, Villeneuve is chipping away at a followup to his 2007 acoustic rock release "Private Paradise."

"I've been recording a second album," he said. "I just haven't had the time to finish it."

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Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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