Remembering Justin Wilson

On the evening of Monday August 24, the motorsport world was hit by the tragic news of the passing of British IndyCar driver Justin Wilson. This came a day after his high-speed crash at Pocono Raceway, in the ABC Supply 500.

Whether it be his incredible skill behind the wheel, or his lovable and caring personality that earned him the ironic nickname “Badass”, Justin was a driver admired by all.

As a tribute to one of the most likeable members of the racing community, #TeamTCF has assembled a selection of our favourite moments from throughout his illustrious career.

Formula 3000 – by Paul Hensby

I first came across Justin Wilson back in the International Formula 3000 Championship back in 2001, when he was racing for the Coca-Cola Nordic Racing outfit.

The first event was over in Brazil at Interlagos, the first time the series had ventured outside of Europe for an event, and Wilson took the victory. The Brit was so excited to have taken his first win, that when raising his hand to celebrate after the chequered flag, he lost control of his Lola car and almost crashed into the pit wall.

He won the championship that year in dominating fashion, comfortably beating the likes of Mark Webber, Tomas Enge, Sebastien Bourdais and Antonio Pizzonia. The star at that time in his career was bright, and F1 was to beckon in 2003.

Mark Webber was Justin’s Formula 3000 rival, and 2003 Jaguar F1 team-mate.

Formula 1 – by Matthew McMahon

Wilson’s Formula 1 journey began in 2001 by way of a test with Jordan which was followed by another with Minardi a year later. Whilst he didn’t secure a drive for the season, he jumped ship to the World Series by Nissan in which he won two races.

His F1 dream wasn’t over, though, as Minardi had him on their radar and intended to give him two races towards the end of the season in place of Alex Yoong. His height however played to his disadvantage as his 6ft 4in frame was too tall for the Minardi PS02 and the drive was instead given to Anthony Davidson.

Wilson got his shot in 2003 as the team built the Minardi PS03 around his height. In the absence of a sponsor to bring to the team, Wilson pre-empted the crowd-funding approach by selling shares in himself on the UK stock market. The scheme was successful, and Wilson got the drive for 2003, partnered by Jos Verstappen.

The Briton impressed against his more experienced teammate and despite the car being uncompetitive his talents gained the attention of Jaguar Racing who signed him to replace Antonio Pizzonia from the German Grand Prix.

Wilson would score his one and only point, fittingly as it would turn out, in the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis and finished his F1 career with 13th place at the Japanese Grand Prix. Ford, who owned Jaguar Racing, decided to reduce their funding for 2004 and the team were forced to look for a driver who could offer them more money. Wilson’s brief F1 career came to an end and his American journey began.

Justin not only raced against Jenson Button in Formula 1, but also as they started their careers in karting.

Champ Car – by Phil Kinch

“If Sebastian Bourdais could ever say he had a nemesis in the Champ Car World Series, it was Justin Wilson.”

After a year in Formula One driving for Minardi & Jaguar, Wilson signed up with the Mi-Jack-sponsored Conquest Racing outfit for his first season of Champ Car. His talent was obvious from the outset as he qualified well during the season’s 14 races with two top five finishes on his way to 11th in the drivers’ standings.

For me, the best memories of Justin Wilson in Champ Car will be his time at the wheel of the RuSport CDW-sponsored Lola-Ford. He joined the team in 2005 as team mate to sensation AJ Allmendinger and he was a force to be reckoned with from the start.

He took his first win in Toronto (see video at 1:57), outbraking Oriol Servia for the lead at turn three, took a podium with third place in Montreal and he went on to win the season finale in Mexico City from pole position. Everytime he fought for on track honours with Bourdais, you knew were watching the two top talents in the series going head to head with plenty of respect evident between the two men.

For me, Justin was the new big British talent in Champ Car and despite finishing second to Bourdais on two consecutive years, he was looking to be a future champion in the short-lived series.

A talent taken before his time.

As well as being his RuSport Champ Car team-mate in 2005 and 2006, AJ Allmendinger also shared his Rolex 24 at Daytona victory with Wilson.

IndyCar – by Joe Hudson

Justin Wilson celebrates his second IndyCar win, and the first for Dale Coyne Racing, at the 2009 Watkins Glen race.
Justin Wilson celebrates his second IndyCar win, and the first for Dale Coyne Racing, at the 2009 Watkins Glen race

Coming off the back of a spell in Champ Car, where he excelled around the street and road course based series that took in places like Assen and Zolder as well as Road America and Long Beach, IndyCar took time for him to settle into – especially with no prior oval experience.

However, ever the trooper he recorded good result after good result. He was never in line for a title, but that was down to bad machinery that – no matter how hard he tried – couldn’t do the job for him.

Every year you would wonder when that drive at Penske, Andretti, or Ganassi would come for him – he thoroughly deserved it – and when it was announced in early 2015 that he didn’t have a drive it felt like Hell had frozen over.

It came as some relief then that Andretti Autosport took him on part time, with the view of sorting something full-time out for 2016. A second place at Mid-Ohio just a few weekends ago showed no one could slow down “Badass” Wilson.

Dale Coyne’s first IndyCar victory

As anyone that saw him race could attest, Justin Wilson could jump behind the wheel of anything and you could never count him out.

However, I don’t even think the great man himself could have denied the Dale Coyne Racing machines down the years were a few crayons short of a full packet. Think of them as the Manor/Marussia of IndyCar and you’d be on the right track. That makes his victory at the 2009 IndyCar race at Watkins Glen even more remarkable.

Taking Dale Coyne Racing’s first win in 25 years came in no small part thanks to his remarkable sense of strategy and what the car could do. Qualifying solidly with an extra set of the red walled Firestone soft tyres, a sound strategy, and a crew that had the bit between their teeth – Sheffield’s finest survived a late safety car restart to use the soft tyres to maximum effect and beat the might of Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon by almost five seconds.

Carlos Munoz was one of Wilson’s four Andretti Autosport team-mates in 2015.

Sportscars – by Jake Kilshaw

Sportscar racing may not have been the biggest part of Justin’s career, but it is one of the many types of racing he took part in to prove how versatile a driver he was.

He started his prototype racing career with the 12 Hours of Sebring. In 2002, his Team Ascari entry finished sixth overall, whereas his 2004 Taurus Racing LMP1 car came home ninth in class.

His sole 24 Hours of Le Mans entry ended in a DNF, but his Racing For Holland team – which included co-driver Tom Coronel – ran the vast majority of the race before retiring.

However, the standout moment of his sportscars career came at the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona. He took victory along with co-drivers AJ Allmendinger, Oswaldo Negri, Jr. and John Pew, on the 50th running of the event.

He had previously entered with the same team, Michael Shank Racing, in 2006 and 2008, finishing a strong second and sixth respectively. He and his team returned to the race in 2013, and managed to recover from being several laps down to finish third.

Michael Shank was Justin’s team boss for all three of his Rolex 24 at Daytona entries, including his 2012 win.

“A Friend of the People” – by Daniel Lloyd

Justin Wilson Detroit 2008
Justin after his first IndyCar win, alongside wife Julia and eldest daughter Jane Louise

Even in the latter stages of his career, Justin Wilson was one of Great Britain’s finest single seater racing drivers. A patient and measured competitor, Wilson was always humble in victory and gracious in defeat. Still in touch with his motorsport roots, even during his time in North America, he brought a special Yorkshire charm to the paddock that was reflected in his rivals’ respect for him.

Always one to speak his mind, Wilson would quickly become a global representative for Champ Car and IndyCar and therefore won a place in the hearts of those who followed the series. I didn’t personally know Justin, but I did meet him as a child during his Formula 1 spell with Minardi in 2003. From that experience it was clear that he was a natural around the fans, shaking hands and discussing motorsport as if he was in the company of friends.

And that’s how most people will remember Justin Wilson: as a friend of the people who just so happened to be one of the most talented and determined drivers of his generation.

Stefan Wilson on his brother’s caring nature. Even today, Justin has saved six lives through organ donation:

Verizon IndyCar Series Communications Director Mike Kitchel’s tweet does a fantastic job to summarise Justin:

Rest in peace, Justin.

Justin Wilson