Gilles Villeneuve still sparks emotions

Jacques Villeneuve, son of legendary Canadian racer Gilles, poses with his father's Ferrari F-1...

Jacques Villeneuve, son of legendary Canadian racer Gilles, poses with his father's Ferrari F-1 race car in Maranello, Italy, May 8, 2012. (LOUIS BUTCHER/QMI Agency)

LOUIS BUTCHER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:22 PM ET

MARANELLO, ITALY - Jacques Villeneuve took the wheel Tuesday of his legendary father's Ferrari 312T4 for several nostalgic laps on the 30th anniversary of Gilles Villeneuve's death.

Widow Joann and daughter Melanie were on hand to watch Jacques bolt around the private Fiorano test track.

Current Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa joined fans, company staff and world media to honour the beloved Quebec racer whose name and fearless style still evoke strong emotions.

The Ferrari model driven by the son is the same one the father drove during the 1979 season, during which Gilles recorded a career-best second place in the world standings.

"The Italians, more than anyone, were fascinated by my father and they wish they could see more of him," Jacques Villeneuve said.

"My father was the idol of the people, I realized it again today. It's just a shame for fans that this great adventure suddenly ended."

Italian television ran a full-length tribute to Gilles Villeneuve on Monday and Ferrari created a tribute web page to the fallen star from Berthierville, Que.

"Many fans were drawn to Maranello by the ever-present memory of the courageous driver," the automaker said.

A one-time snowmobile racer, Gilles Villeneuve ascended all the way to Formula One's most storied team in 1977 after less than a year on the circuit.

Villeneuve recorded a total of six wins, including a triumphant showing at the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, and was widely considered the fastest driver on the circuit.

His promising career was cut short on May 8, 1982 when he was killed at age 32 during a qualifying run before the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder.

Son Jacques was 11 years old.

Jacques' decision to ride in his dad's refurbished car Tuesday might be a sign he has finally come to terms with the Gilles Villeneuve legacy.

For a time it was about the only thing Jacques couldn't outrun during a career that eventually surpassed that of his father.

Jacques followed in his father's footsteps two years after the tragic crash, starring in go-karts before moving on to the North American CART series where he won the 1995 Indy 500.

By that point he had grown tired of the constant questions about the elder Villeneuve's exploits.

"We always came back to the same debate," Jacques said. "So I stopped talking about it. I had a career to build, but they always came back to my father."

Jacques moved on to the F-1 circuit in 1996 and quickly realized his father's dream, winning the 1997 Formula One world championship.

He said the comparisons with his father subsided after he won the world title and the intervening decades have allowed him to put the comparisons in perspective.

"It's sad to say but the fact that he died helped me become a better driver and a man," the 41-year-old Monaco resident said.

"But let me be clear -- as a little boy, I sure would have wanted him alive."

Click here to see Ferrari's tribute page to Gilles Villeneuve.


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