Racing can be a truly humbling sport sometimes. Even small victories are short lived, as was evidenced in a 24-hour period by the Team Hezeberg Powered by Reaume Bros. organization.
On Wednesday evening, Jacques Villeneuve and the No. 27 team were riding on the high of seemingly locking their position into the 2022 Daytona 500 field.
While other Open Cars in the field, like Floyd Mayweather’s The Money Team and Greg Biffle driving for NY Racing, had stolen headlines, the Hezeberg team showed up when the chips were on the table and turned a fast lap when it was needed the most.
And by doing so, they instantly became THE Cinderella story of the 2022 Daytona 500.
Fast forward to the pace laps of Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacation Duel No. 2, and the 50-year old driver and upstart race team were stuck on pit road with a car that simply would not move.
Villeneuve described the sinking feeling from the cockpit when he couldn’t get his No. 27 Ford Mustang to fire off of pit road while the field was taking pace laps for the Duel.
“[I was] not happy, because the throttle was also not moving. So, something was bent in there,” Villeneuve explained.
Luckily, the driver and team had their qualifying time to fall back on, which would ensure their place in the field, right? Well, per NASCAR rules, in order for an Open team to fall back on their qualifying time to make the field, the team must compete in the Bluegreen Vacation Duel.
In an instant, Wednesday’s elation turned into Thursday night’s anxiety.
“Yeah, I don’t know why [the throttle linkage] got bent. I don’t know what happened. But from what I understand, if we didn’t take part of the race today, we would be thrown out of the race on Sunday. So, that’s why it was a little bit stressful,” Villeneuve recalled.
As the scene in the Hezeberg pit became very chaotic, a calming presence emerged in Josh Reaume, the crew chief for the No. 27 team, and the man behind getting the upstart team positioned for a Daytona 500 run.
With Reaume, who had hopped atop the pit road wall to get a better viewing angle of the situation, serving as the General and handing out assignments, the fevered situation became focused on the task at hand, getting the car fixed so that Villeneuve could get the No. 27 car on track, which would officially lock the 1997 Formula 1 World Champion into the field for the Daytona 500 for the first time in his career.
Following the race, Villeneuve had high praise for Reaume.
“He’s good. He’s really good under stressful situations, obviously,” Villeneuve emphasized. “He can put everybody in place and calm them down and tell them what to do. So, that was really good. That was necessary today.”
While Reaume and the Team Hezeberg crew members got the car back in condition to take the track, they didn’t totally fix the gremlins in the car during the Duel, as the throttle linkage issues were only partially fixed during the race.
“They fixed it just before we got going, but not fully, because I was only getting 60-percent throttle the whole race,” Villeneuve explained. “Which means the car is not really that slow.”
Villeneuve continued, “When I stopped the first time for the pits, the throttle stayed stuck at low revs. The second time around it just died. There was just no more throttle. So, something funky there.”
While it wasn’t ideal that the No. 27 team ran into issues on Thursday night, Villeneuve was glad that the throttle linkage issues happened in the events leading up to Sunday’s big show, and not in the Daytona 500.
The native of Quebec says that the team will have their car fixed and ready to contend come Sunday.
“Now, the car is going through tech and everything is fine,” Villeneuve said.
If Villeneuve, who will start from the 40th and final spot on the starting grid, can go on to contend well in Sunday’s Daytona 500, it will only add to his legendary legacy behind the wheel, which in addition to being a Formula 1 champion includes an IndyCar Championship and an Indianapolis 500 win.