By John Bombatch
DAYTON — Even though Stefan Wilson has accomplished a lot in motorsports in the United States and in Europe, he didn’t hesitate to call himself a rookie at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Oh yeah, I’m definitely a rookie there,” Wilson said, between bites of his dinner Tuesday at Jimmie’s Ladder 11 restaurant on Brown Street, just north of the University of Dayton campus. “I had done a lot of stuff with the track, either helping out with driving the two-seater or driving people around in the pace cars. So you get so used to that speed of around 180-190 mph. And your body is asking, ‘Well, just how different is it going to be to go 230?’
“Then you get out there for practice and you’re doing 220s, and it just blows your mind just how different it is. You have a certain feel for how it should be when you get from the pylon to the turn in Turn 1. You have all this timing down, but suddenly it feels as if everything is in fast forward. But after those first couple of runs, your brain sort of adjusts. Then the next time you get in the car, it feels more comfortable.”
Wilson met with local media as part of the Indianapolis 500 Media Day campaign, where the 33 qualified drivers in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 race fan out to media outlets across the country to tout the race they love.
He said Friday’s practice session, when Indycar Series officials allowed teams to turn up the engine boost and ultimately run faster speeds, was another eye opening experience.
“… You look down and you see the 240 mph speed on your dash as you’re turning into Turn 1, and you just think to yourself, ‘Well, I hope it sticks!’ It’s just been quite a whirlwind.”
He qualified 30th in the 33-car field, but said in Monday’s practice he picked up on an improved car setup. His car’s setup now differentiates from that of KVSH Racing teammates four-time CART Series champion Sebastien Bourdais and fellow rookie Matthew Brabham.
“This whole week, we’ve tried to stay close to the setup with Sebastien and Matt, and it’s been difficult, because I haven’t been comfortable with their settings. … Then (Monday) we tried a setup change that was completely in the opposite direction of where they were going, and I liked it. We just continued on that path, and I really feel like I found something that I was comfortable driving,” Wilson said.
As as result, the 26-year-old British driver has a renewed confidence in his car for race day.
Wilson is driving on Sunday for a number of reasons. One of the primary ones is to be in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in his late brother Justin’s honor. Justin Wilson, an 11-year series racing veteran, was killed in an Indycar Series event last August at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.
One of Stefan Wilson’s car sponsors — Driven2SaveLives.org — is a part of the Indiana Donor Network. Just as his brother was an organ donor and reportedly had his organs donated to five individuals still living today, Stefan is now a donor, and he hopes to encourage others to donate their organs, too.
Stefan, whose helmet shows his own design on the left side and that of his late brother on the right, hopes to finish the 500-mile, 200-lap “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in his brother’s honor.
“I’m thankful that I was already focused on racing the Indy 500 (at the time of Justin’s death), because it gave me something to really focus on. It really helped me grieve, because it was a positive that I could really focus on,” Wilson said. “It gave me this extra determination, because I felt that I owed it to Justin to work my ass off to try and make it. I didn’t want to let Justin down. I wanted to be able to tell him that I made it and that I never gave up.”
FAST SOCKS: Fans can support Stefan, or several other Indycar drivers by purchasing a pair of brightly colored USWAG compression socks. The multicolored footwear is a business originally started up by Justin Wilson, and its operation has continued with his wife Julia’s support.
Net proceeds from the Justin Wilson tribute socks will be donated to the Dyslexia Institute of Indiana, a charity Justin supported each May during the Indianapolis 500. The socks can be found for $18 online at http://shop.ims.com/brands/USwag.html.
John Bombatch can be reached at 937-372-4444, Ext. 2123.