In 1975, Gilles Villeneuve was into his second season of Formula Atlantic, a junior championship which sat somewhere in between Formula 3 and Formula 2.
He’d yet to win a race, but when the rain absolutely hammered down at the Gimli circuit, conditions were perfect for him to do something special – after all, he was used to slippery conditions, having already won a championship in snowmobiles. As cars found themselves aquaplaning off everywhere Gilles raced through the field, eventually taking the lead from Bobby Rahal and winning the race.
The following season Gilles found himself in a better funded and better prepared team and he was pretty much unstoppable. He won eight of the 12 races and was both Canadian and US champion.
It was at a non-championship invitational event at the Trois-Rivieres circuit where Gilles really came to prominence, though. Patrick Depailler and soon-to-be world champion James Hunt were Villeneuve’s teammates for the race and he absolutely thrashed the pair of them. Hunt went back to McLaren, raving about this unknown Canadian who’d just spanked him in a Formula Atlantic race, and McLaren signed him as reserve driver for 1977.
He made his debut at the British Grand Prix that year and the rest, as they say, is history.