PAULERSPURY, England (AP) — The daring moves and steely determination of Justin Wilson were remembered at the IndyCar driver’s funeral in an English village on Thursday, three weeks after his fatal accident during a race.
Former Formula One teammate Mark Webber and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti helped to carry the coffin, draped in a Union Jack, into a church near the central England circuit of Silverstone.
Hundreds of mourners, including three-time F1 champion Jackie Stewart, packed into the St. James and Great Church while a few Paulerspury residents gathered outside to hear the service being relayed over a speaker.
A poem written by Wilson’s wife, Julia, in the days after her 37-year-old husband’s death was read out.
“It’s not fair you had such a short life,” the poem said.
Wilson’s daughters Jane and Jessica left hand-written notes on wreathes remembering their father.
“I feel sad and I miss you. Love Jane,” read one. The other simply said: “Daddy I love you. Jessica.”
Wilson died on Aug. 23, a day after being hit in the helmet by debris from another car at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.
Wilson won seven times over 12 seasons in open-wheel racing, and finished as high as fifth in the Indianapolis 500.
“Justin had raw talent in abundance,” former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer told mourners. “His overtaking skills were incredible … and he would always achieve this cleanly and fairly.”
Delivering the eulogy, Palmer added: “Justin had a steely determination in a race car with the most relaxed amiable disposition.”
Palmer helped to create a program in 2003 that allowed fans to invest in Wilson’s career.
An acclaimed sports car racer, Wilson won the 24 Hours of Daytona with Michael Shank Racing, and he competed in F1 in 2003 before moving to the U.S. to join Champ Car. He finished third in the Champ Car standings in 2005, and was runner-up in 2006 and 2007.
“Things didn’t always go his way, he didn’t always get the drives his talent deserved but you never heard him moaning about it,” Franchitti told The Associated Press. “He just made the best of what he had.
“He won some races in some equipment that honestly probably shouldn’t have won races. It was the way he dealt with the adversity. He just got on with it.”
Wilson returned to drive from a broken back in 2011, and a broken pelvis and bruised lung in 2013.
“We know the dangers are always there,” Webber, a teammate of Wilson’s at Jaguar in the 2003 F1 season, said at Silverstone following the service. “Motorsport has had good and bad patches when it comes to these tragic events. When it is really close to home then it hits you even harder. This is very close to home personally for me.”
Wilson’s death has prompted renewed calls for greater protection for drivers, including closed cockpits, coming a month after F1 driver Jules Bianchi died following nine months in a coma after a massive head injury in a race crash last October.
“It is inevitable (closed cockpits) will probably happen,” Webber said at Silverstone. “It is hard to have a knee-jerk reaction because these things need a lot of research, and working out how they can make it work from both sides.”
The Union Jack and Stars and Stripes were flown at half-staff at Silverstone, where Wilson’s career was remembered with video highlights and speeches.
The last IndyCar driver to die from an on-track incident was two-time Indianapolis 500 champ Dan Wheldon, who was killed in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas after his head hit a post in the fence when his car went airborne.
“It takes an incident like this or Dan Wheldon’s crash … to get everyone galvanized again to come up with the next solution,” said Franchitti, who is Scottish. “But racing is a dangerous sport and everyone participating in it understands that.
“When I was driving I felt the risks were perfectly normal. When I stopped driving I realized it’s something special these drivers do.”