This morning it was tragically announced that the British racing driver Justin Wilson had succumbed to the terrible head injuries he sustained at the IndyCar ABC Supply 500 at the Pocono Raceway on Sunday. He was 37.
A kind man respected by the whole of the IndyCar community, something rarely seen, Wilson moved Stateside in 2004, after not being able to keep his Formula 1 drive with Jaguar, competing in the Champ Car and finally IndyCar series.
Born in Sheffield on 31st July 1978, Wilson started kart racing in 1987 before graduating to Formula Vauxhall and then going on to win the first ever Formula Palmer Audi championship in 1998, at the age of just 20. It was because of this, his single seater career started to gain momentum, and he made the step up to the prestigious feeder series to F1, Formula 3000 (the former version of GP2) for 1999. In his 3 years there he won 3 races, all coming in his title winning season in 2001, where he caught the attention of several small Formula 1 teams, including Minardi.
However, due to his 6 foot 4 frame, Minardi couldn’t offer him a drive for 2002, and retained Alex Yoong to partner rookie Mark Webber. And when Yoong was sacked, Anthony Davidson had to take the vacant second seat, otherwise Minardi would have had to redesign the cockpit, not easy on a shoestring budget!
Fortunately for 2003, Webber was elevated to the Jaguar team, Davidson went to test for BAR and Yoong was never seen in F1 again, so Wilson finally got his break, managing to raise the £1.5 million needed through setting up Justin Wilson plc, where shareholders could donate to get him a fully deserved seat. They beat the target and ended up being oversubscribed by June 2003. This showed the popularity and ingenuity of the man, who will be sorely missed.
For that season, he was paired with Jos Verstappen, a vastly more experienced driver and Wilson consistently outperformed him, making Jaguar sit up and take notice. After sacking Antonio Pizzonia, Jaguar took on Wilson, and he managed his first and only point in the series, an 8th place at the United States Grand Prix (funnily enough). But for 2004, Ford were reluctant to put substantial funds into the team and opted for Red Bull backed Christian Kilen instead of Wilson.
So he moved to the United States, first competing in Champ Car, his best year coming in 2005, winning 3 races and coming 3rd in the championship, behind Sébastien Bourdais and Oriol Servià.
His last venture was the growing IndyCar series, in 2008, where he achieved several respectable results, including a win at Detroit in the 17th round of the season. In the following 7 seasons, he scored 2,491 points, 3 wins and came 6th in the standings in 2013, not to mention he scored an outstanding 5th place at the Indy 500 that year.
Sadly on 23rd August 2015 at Pocono Raceway following a crash by Sage Karam, Wilson was hit by a flying nose cone from Karam’s car and was knocked unconscious with just 21 laps to go before veering into the infield barrier. He was given medical attention at the crash scene before being transported to Lehigh Valley Hospital where he fell into a coma and died soon after.
The racing world unfortunately has to deal with tragedies no matter how painful they are, it’s a dangerous sport, nothing can change that. We can be thankful that we aren’t reflecting on lost lives all to often, even though we’ve lost fellow driver Jules Bianchi and now Justin within weeks. Tributes have been pouring in from fellow competitors, friends, family and his multiple fans around the world, sharing their fond memories and condolences and he will leave a great hole in the racing world. A fine driver and man, well respected and admired.
Rest in Peace and farewell Justin, it’s been a pleasure watching you drive.
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