Obituary: Justin Wilson

Justin Boyd Wilson was born in Sheffield on July 31 1978. At the age of nine, Justin began karting, during which time he crossed paths with a number of future drivers, including Jenson Button, who said that he remembers his “infectious” smile. In 1995, Wilson’s talent was recognised by Paul Stewart – son of Jackie – and signed him for his Formula Vauxhall team, a series in which he progressed with flying colours and a glowing reputation, before he moved into Formula Palmer Audi, winning the inaugural series. For 1999, Wilson moved into Formula 3000, in which he stayed for three series, winning the title in 2001 by 32 points over Mark Webber. In the same year, he began testing for the Minardi F1 team, and was in contention to drive for them in the middle of the 2002 season in place of an absent Alex Yoong, but concerns regarding his 6ft4 height meant the drive went to Anthony Davidson. His talent did not to go waste however, as he found a drive in the Nissan Telefonica World Series, winning two races.

2003 was to be his big break. With help from his management – led by former F1 driver-turned commentator Jonathan Palmer – setting-up a share scheme in which anyone willing could invest in him, Wilson managed to raise £1.2million which helped secure a fixed seat with Minardi for 2003. Doubts were still raised about his stature being a problem, but he passed all checks and duly lined-up in Melbourne for the first round. After failing to finish his first four races, Wilson reached the flag in Spain, finishing eleventh. After another two retirements and four finishes, Wilson was offered a seat with Jaguar, to replace Antonio Pizzonia whose services were surplus to requirements after a disappointing season. Wilson finished the final two races of the season, finishing eighth and gaining a solitary World Championship point after a fine drive at Indianapolis. Sadly for Wilson, Jaguar’s engine suppliers Ford weren’t prepared to inject much cash into the team, and suggested a paying driver, eventually hiring Austrian Christian Klien, leaving Wilson in the cold and out of F1.

Thankfully, an offer from Mi-Jack Conquest Racing arose and Wilson moved Stateside for 2004. It was a successful rookie season in ChampCar, finishing eleventh in the overall standings with 188 points. 2005 saw Wilson switch to RuSPORT, where he enjoyed being regularly amongst the top of the pack, and took his maiden victory in Toronto, and won the final round of the season in Mexico, securing a third place in the standings. A further two seasons with RuSPORT saw Wilson finish runner-up in 2005 and 2006, winning a further two races and amassing ten more podium finishes.

In 2008, ChampCar merged with the IRL IndyCar series, and Wilson signed for Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing team, replacing outgoing champion Sebastien Bourdais. Still struggling to adapt to racing on ovals, Wilson finished eleventh in the standings with one win in Detroit. For 2009, Wilson signed for Dale Coyne Racing, and gave the team the first win in their 23-year history at Watkins Glen after overtaking pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe early on. Whilst searching for a new team for 2010, Wilson was part of a four-man team that finished second in the 24 Hours of Daytona for Chip Ganassi Racing. Soon after, it was announced that Wilson had signed for Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, where he would stay for the next two seasons, during which he amassed only two podium finishes, and missed the remaining seven races of 2011 with an injured back after a testing accident at Ohio.

Wilson returned to Dale Coyne Racing for 2012, and won his only race on an oval circuit at the Texas Motor Speedway in the Firestone 550, but was docked five points after scrutineers found illegal bodywork on his car post-race. 2013 was Wilson’s best season in IndyCar, finishing sixth in the championship standings after four podium finishes and a number of other high-scoring points finishes.

After a disappointing 2014, Wilson was again a free agent and remained so for the first four races of the current season, before being signed by Andretti Autosport for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indy 500. After a further four races without a seat, Wilson drove for Andretti’s Formula E team at the ninth round in Moscow, finishing tenth which earned him a single point. Wilson returned to Andretti Autosport’s IndyCar roster, signing for the final five races of the season, and just three weeks ago, he made his final appearance on the rostrum at Mid-Ohio, finishing second in the Honda Indy 200.

As everyone is now painfully aware, Wilson made his final and fatal appearance at Pocono in the ABC Supply 500, succumbing to injuries sustained after being hit by debris from the Chip Ganassi car of Sage Karam. He leaves behind wife Julia and two daughters, Jane Louise and Jessica Lynne, as well as brother Stefan, a former Indy Lights winner, who also lined-up alongside Justin as team-mates in the 2013 Grand Prix of Baltimore.

The number of tributes made by drivers based on both sides of the Atlantic is testament to amount of respect Justin Wilson gained as a driver and as a human being. The racing community will remember a man who is being remembered as a gentle giant of motorsport, and will never be forgotten by the fans he kept in Britain, and gained in America.

Justin Wilson


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