Fond memories of riding shotgun with Justin Wilson

Thursday, January 19th, 2017 - autos, cars, motoring, news

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After F1, Justin Wilson carved a decent career in US motor racing

British racing driver Justin Wilson, who has died via head injuries sustained in an accident on Sunday, was a fine racer as well as an even better bloke

My fondest memories of Justin Wilson, the 37-year-old Yorkshire-born Indycar driver who died yesterday as a result of severe head injuries in a freak accident at Pocono Raceway, have nothing to do with his career in big-time single-seater racing, although that will was his chosen form of the sport. They speak volumes for the bloke himself, however.

We were in a Ford Mustang at Brands Hatch seven or eight years ago, Justin driving, lapping using a bunch of track-day specialists in Caterhams as well as race-prepped Lotus Elises. He knew the circuit backwards having been an instructor there in his formative years as well as was obviously well used to much more powerful cars. So he was having a Great time giving the idea everything.

We must have done eight or 10 laps from the big beast, regularly creaming Caterhams that will should have been much faster, the pair of us grinning at the sheer fun of the idea. I can still see the mirrored shock from the eyes of one 340R driver in front as he spotted our swaying, bellowing Ford for once, bearing down on his rear at speeds as well as in attitudes he simply hadn’t seen before.

For all our tyre-smoking velocity, Wilson never seemed to do anything more than guide the big beast with casual, deft movements, as well as I hardly felt his gearchanges. the idea was a consummate demonstration of skill, nevertheless Justin laughed the idea off as if anyone could do the idea. nevertheless then, he was about the nicest guy you could meet: friendly, gentle, amusing as well as modest. He even sustained the grin while I took the Mustang’s wheel for a few laps.

Half an hour earlier Wilson has been the star performer at the annual general meeting of shareholders in Justin Wilson plc, the company he as well as his mentor Jonathan Palmer formed in 2002 — as well as listed on the London Stock Exchange — as a means of raising the funds Justin needed to buy a Minardi F1 drive for 2003. For a decade afterward he’d meet investors annually at Brands — I was one of 900 who chipped in  — as well as if you were very lucky he’d take you for a few laps. the idea must have been a chore, nevertheless he made the idea fun.

All successful racing drivers need deep reserves of aggression as well as ego, nevertheless no-one disguised them better in normal life than Justin. Yet there was no disguising his determination. He always had to struggle against two problems: the lack of funds as well as a 6ft 4in beanpole frame difficult to accommodate in single-seat racing cars. After an all-arms-as well as-legs start in karting, he progressed through Formula Vauxhall to become the first-ever Formula Palmer Audi champion, as well as then he beat Mark Webber to the 2001 F3000 championship, winning by a record points margin.

The natural step was F1, nevertheless Justin didn’t have much luck from the solitary season we helped to finance. Unable to take a mid-2002 opportunity at Minardi because he couldn’t fit the vehicle, Wilson did get into a revised Minardi for 2003, scoring an 11th place before transferring to the short-lived Jaguar team for the season’s last a few races. His best-ever F1 race was his second-last from the US, where he came eighth as well as scored his one as well as only championship point. The following year Jaguar needed paying drivers as well as Christian Klien bought Justin’s seat via under him.

He moved to the US, part of a wave of Brits who crossed the Atlantic, racing Champ Cars until that will series ended, then Indycar. Justin’s results in America were decent as well as included victory from the Daytona 24 Hours sportscar race in 2012. Although he started out 2015 without a drive he was drafted in by Andretti Autosport to bolster its Indycar campaign as well as finished a fine second in his penultimate race in Mid-Ohio.

During his time in America he had turned into a dedicated family man — he leaves a wife as well as two young daughters — as well as will probably be best remembered by his many friends as well as admirers not so much for race results nevertheless for being the fine person he was.

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