Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Inexhaustible Smile of Driver Justin Wilson

Photo Credit: IndyCar


Monday night, sadness fell over the entire motorsport world as a competition embraced for its excitement and action claimed a great athlete. 37-year-old British driver Justin Wilson succumbed to a head injury suffered in a late-race incident at the Verizon IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway.

A penultimate round in the open wheel racing series for 2015, optimism for seeing a great battle for championship and race position was overshadowed quickly after a series of crashes proved evermore worrisome. On lap 180, a crash by leader Sage Karam into the turn 1 wall showered the track with debris. A nose cone compartment of Karam's #8 car is believed to be the piece that flew up and hit the #25 Andretti Autosport car's driver Justin Wilson in the helmet. Despite receiving swift attention from IndyCar's safety crew, the unconscious Wilson could not be revived at the scene and needed to be airlifted to an offsite hospital. Announced to be in a coma Sunday night, Justin Wilson's passing was announced at 9 pm Eastern time Monday night.

The 37-year-old British racer spent 28 years demonstrating incredible versatility behind the wheel of a vehicle. Moving from karting and eventually transitioning through the ranks of European open wheel racing, he reached the ceiling of the sport at the age of 24. He spent one full season in Formula 1 competing with two teams. Afterwards Wilson found success in American open wheel racing winning on the Champ Car World Series as well as in IndyCar. Justin Wilson will forever be remembered as a driver who battled hard simply to be part of big-time auto racing. Through every challenge he faced, a vibrant, warm personality was beamed outwards.


Photo Credit: Chris Nagy via Screenshot from Low-Res Video



At the age of 13, the future racing star was diagnosed with the learning block dyslexia after long-running scholastic struggles. In the process of overcoming the hurdle that challenged him in school, Wilson was gained notoriety on the race track. As his career grew, the driver committed himself to share lessons of fighting dyslexia publicly.

As Justin Wilson grew up, his physical stature also became a tricky hindrance. Growing to be a 6-foot, 4-inch man, a jockey-like size sought by major Formula 1 teams kept him out of consideration. Fortunately, Wilson's talent and determination towered over his own size enough to open the door with the European Minardi team for the 2003 Formula 1 season.

Like is often the case for Formula 1 drivers, money was needed to race on major grand prix tracks weighed on Justin Wilson. In order to raise funding for the 2003 season in Formula 1, his name was added to the London Stock Exchange in order to attract investors. Practically a Kickstarter campaign before it existed, Wilson and his management team succeeded in their goal of securing the funding needed to for the 2003 season in Formula 1. Running for the European Minardi team for the first 11 races, Jaguar Racing picked him up for the remaining five events where he scored a championship point in the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis. Following the 2003 season, Wilson ultimately left Formula 1 due to losing the fight for sponsorship dollars against other funded drivers.

Taking the trip over the Atlantic Ocean, Justin Wilson's new career in the Champ Car World Series started in 2004 with Conquest Racing. Picked up by RuSPORT for the 2005 season in the series, he captured his maiden victory in major American open wheel racing on the streets of Toronto. While the Champ Car World Series was prominently competed on circuits in the United States, all four career victories on the tour occurred on tracks outside of the country (twice in Canada as well as in Mexico and the Netherlands). Wilson's first win in the United States in major open wheel racing occurred in 2008 in Detroit as part of the reunified IndyCar Series driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.


Photo Credit: Michael Levitt via IndyCar



In 2009, Justin Wilson once again challenged astronomical odds partnered with Dale Coyne Racing. A single-car operation against the superteams of Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, Wilson pulled-off a popular victory at Watkins Glen in the #18 car. The win was Dale Coyne's first in major open wheel competition since entering team ownership in the 1980s. Running with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for 2010 and 2011, Wilson returned to Dale Coyne Racing where they won the 2012 Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway (the driver's one and only oval victory).

Also part of the 2012 calendar year was Wilson's participation in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series' crown jewel round, the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Part of the #60 Michael Shank Racing, Justin Wilson paired with A.J. Allmendinger, Oswaldo Negri and John Pew in a Ford-powered Riley. A race that ended with a tight battle for the lead in the Daytona Prototype class, the #60 car pulled-off a popular win at the prestigious event. In 2013, the Grand Prix of Baltimore event presented Justin Wilson with the opportunity to race alongside his brother Stefan.


Photo Credit: Chris Nagy



Parting with Dale Coyne Racing after a disappointing 2014 IndyCar season, Justin Wilson ran a partial schedule with Andretti Autosport for 2015. Originally only with Indianapolis races in mind, Wilson was brought back into competition for July. At Mid-Ohio Sports car course (one race prior to the Pocono event), Justin Wilson and team took the runner-up position. Racing against eventual winner Graham Rahal, Wilson maintained a selfless tone in a post-race interview. "I had one more push-to-pass left but Graham was too quick (haha) - all the credit to him today because he was on fire. We pushed as hard as we could. I have to thank everyone at Andretti Autosport and Honda for all the work they’ve done. I’m pleased to get Honda a 1-2 finish at their home track." said Wilson. Earlier this year, Justin Wilson also ran a race in the revolutionary new all-electric Formula E tour finishing 10th in the Moscow round.


Photo Credit: IndyCar



As is so often the case in auto racing, the spirit of community has united all parties involved in motorsports to honour a life. Andretti Autosport posted the following condolence on their Facebook page.

We are deeply saddened by the passing of Justin Wilson. He was a tremendous racer, a valuable member of the team and...
Posted by Andretti Autosport on Monday, August 24, 2015


Justin Wilson's car owner for four years in IndyCar competition Dale Coyne said, "Justin was the kindest, gentlest racer that we have ever known. His wife Julia and their adorable girls, Jane and Jessica, are shining lights of Justin's spirit." as part of a statement on the team's website.

Off the track, Justin Wilson was also a husband and father of two daughters. Wilson's family posted a statement following the announcement of their close, heartfelt loss. "The family would like to thank the staff at the Lehigh Valley Health Network Cedar Crest Hospital,  Pocono Raceway, Andretti Autosport, and the Verizon IndyCar Series as well as the entire racing community for the amazing outpouring of support from fans around the world". The family of Justin Wilson requests that in lieu of flowers, people wishing to bid tribute to the driver send donations to the Wilson Children's Fund.




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