Justin Wilson 1978 – 2015

Justin Wilson has died in hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, from head injuries he suffered on Sunday, during the IndyCar race at Pocono International Speedway. He was 37.

It is ironic indeed that the story of the Sheffield-born Wilson should finish in Allentown, but in many ways the two steel towns on either side of the Atlantic sum up Justin’s character and his racing career. He was a man of steel, tough and strong in the face of adversity, who never gave up, despite the disadvantages and misfortunes that he had to deal with along the way.

Justin grew up in the Yorkshire countryside and started racing karts when he was nine. He switched to cars and raced for Paul Stewart in Formula Vauxhall but he did not have sufficient money to take a traditional route and moved to the new Formula Palmer Audi in 1998, becoming the first champion in the series with nine victories. With help from Jonathan Palmer, he moved straight into Formula 3000 in 1999 with the Astromega team before switching to Nordic Racing in 2000. After finding support from a Coca-Cola company, he was able to win the title the following year in a dominant fashion. The problem was not purely financial because his 6ft4in height would prove to be a serious obstacle. He tested for Jordan but his height proved to be a problem and he went into 2002 without a drive in Formula 1 and had to step back and race in the Nissan World Series, winning races in Spain and Brazil.

In order to secure a drive with Minardi he was required to raise £1.2 million and, working with his manager Jonathan Palmer, decided to try a new funding strategy and offered himself as an investment opportunity, floating Justin Wilson PLC on the stock exchange and giving fans the chance to own a share in his career and any money that he might make. This proved to be successful for him, although the investors did not make money as Justin’s career in the United States did not generate the kind of money that he might have earned if he had been able to stay in F1. He did sufficiently well with Minardi to be offered a drive by the Ford Motor Company-owned Jaguar Racing. Justin scored his first point for the team in the United States GP at Indianapolis.

Sadly, Ford’s ambitions in F1 crumbled to nothing and the team decided to take on Christian Klien in 2004, as he was able to bring funding from Red Bull. The team would be sold to Red Bull later and would become Red Bull Racing. With no hope of an F1 ride without money, Wilson headed across the Atlantic in 2004. He joined Mi-Jack Conquest Racing in Champ Car and learned the ropes and then moved on to RuSPORT the following season, winning his first race that year in Toronto and adding a second victory in Mexico City. He finished third in the championship. In 2006 he stayed with the operation but also tried his hand at sports car racing and finished second in the Daytona 24 Hours in a Michael Shank Racing Riley-Lexus. He would return to Daytona several times, finishing second again in 2010 and finally winning the race in 2012, sharing a Shank Ford with AJ Allmendinger, Oswaldo Negri and John Pew.

He finished runner-up in the weakened Champ Car series 2006 but ended the year breaking his wrist in a crash at Surfers Paradise. A few weeks later he married his longtime girlfriend Julia. Their daughters Jane and Jessica were born in 2008 and 2010.

Champ Car was falling apart in 2007 and Wilson was fortunate to find a drive with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing in the Indy Racing League for the 2008 season, when many drivers found themselves without work after the Champ Car-IRL fusion. He repaid the team’s faith in his abilities by winning that summer in Detroit, but at the end of the year the team could no longer afford to keep him and so he made the decision to sign for Dale Coyne Racing, an outfit with a fairly lacklustre reputation at that point. Wilson galvanised the team into action and in July that year he gave the team its first IndyCar victory, after more than 20 years trying, at Watkins Glen. Competing with the big combines became more and more difficult in 2009 and in 2010 Justin moved to Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, although he would not win races with the team in the course of the next two seasons. He was out of action for half of 2011 after suffering a back injury in a crash at Mid-Ohio.

At the start of 2012 he decided to go back to Coyne and the magic returned and that summer he won his first oval victory with the team in Texas. His goal was to do sufficiently well to land a drive with one of the top teams, or to help Coyne become a frontrunner. The problems of money returned, however, and he found himself out of work at the start of this year. He talked his way into a drive with Andretti Autosport for the Indy 500 and did well enough to earn a ride for the final races of the season and two weeks ago finished second for the team in Mid-Ohio. His career, it seemed, was again on an upward path with the hope that he would become a full-time Andretti Autosport driver in 2016. Sadly, that was not to be.

Wilson was much respected by his peers and within the motor racing community and there is enormous sadness at his passing. The family has asked that donations be made to a fund that has been established for his children, which is being administered by IndyCar. Donations should be sent to: Wilson Children’s Fund, c/o Indycar, 4551 W. 16th St., Indianapolis, IN 46222.

24 thoughts on “Justin Wilson 1978 – 2015

  1. So sad. We have to admit that they are pretty vulnerable for debris with an open cockpit. Massa, Surtees, Wilson. May he rest in peace.

  2. So desperately sad, a freak accident where if the debris had gone a foot either side Justin would still be with us. From a fellow Yorkshireman – rest in peace lad.

  3. What can one say; a good, a very good driver is now gone. A good, a very good man is now gone. A time for great sadness but a time to acknowledge a great person…Justin Wilson, you will always be remembered. Rest in peace.

  4. So sad. I had the pleasure of interviewing him in 2007 for indycarnival on the gold coast in Australia. One of the nicest guys I’ve met in sport let alone motor racing. He will be missed in this part of the world as well. 😦

  5. My abiding memory of JW is a split second shot of him whilst driving for Minardi, when he had a shoulder injury yet drove most of the race through the pain. The camera fleetingly caught him in the garage wincing in agony and trying to rotate his arm above his head, and I, like many others, thought ‘wow, that’s some true grit right there.’

    Terrible shame.

  6. So sad to hear of Justin Wilson’s passing. I read of his accident on Sunday, and , like everyone, hoped desparately that he would pull through. Saw him on the pit lane prior to the 2013 LBGP. He was joking around with his crew. I believe he finished 2nd that day to Takuma Sato. Condolences to his family and friends. His passing leaves a huge void.

  7. Much as I do not want to see it I think the argument for a closed cockpit will come to the fore again.

    With a closed cockpit we may still have Henry Surtees, Maria de Villota, Justin Wilson and Dan Wheldon with us and Filipe Massa’s incident may have been far less severe.

    Bodies such as the FIA may find it hard to argue against it in the light of recent deaths. In all sports the effects of head injuries are a big issue as, if not having an instant effect on the athlete can lead to long term health issues.

  8. You can find the address address for the trust fund at the IndyCar website and various tweets by it and people associated with the series. Perhaps Mr Saward can edit his remarks and include it.
    I was at the Pocono race but quite frankly know less about the accident than tv viewers. Turn 1 is a distance from where I was at the start/finish line and the two large screen TVs are at the ends of the stand (Pocono only has one large grandstand at the start/finish betweens turns 1 and 3). The IRL radio feed is piped over the loudspeaker system and is quite audible most of the time. In a lot of ways it was a freak that the 8 pound nose from Sage Kasam’s car hit Wilson’s head but the second half of the race was filled with cautions and the odds of more accidents increase the more restarts you have.
    Prayers for Wilson’s family in this difficult time.

  9. One of the big frustrations about Formula 1 is its persistence in encouraging small drivers; jockeys almost. I am sure Justin would have fared better if he hadn’t had to squeeze into cars. It is not a new thing, drivers like Hans Stuck similarly suffered. RIP.

  10. I never had the chance to meet Justin but by all account he was a gentleman and a proper “racer’s racer”

    Sadly we’ve lost both Jules and Justin this year, the usual opinions from “experts” will now, as they always seem to, do the rounds, with “experts” saying motorsport is too dangerous, that closed cockpits should be introduced and that certain series or circuits should be banned… you’ll probably have already seen them in the comments section of almost every online newspaper.

    These opinions are given without realising the personal hurt behind this tragedy, that a young man has lost his life, a man who leaves behind a wife and children, and without thinking that a family are grieving, that a sport is in mourning and that we as racing fans are not here to defend our sport, but to mourn and grieve with everyone else.

    Racing has taken a beating this year, tragedies have overshadowed things, politics have complicated matters and gossip has clouded the judgement of many.

    Can we just get back to racing, in the memory and honour of both Justin and Jules, two great young men who died doing a sport we all love.

    RIP Justin, you will be truly missed.

  11. Justin Wilson always seemed to have a smile. The world could use a lot more people with a disposition like his. Godspeed Justin.

  12. I had the pleasure of interviewing Justin and seeing his face in the paddock when the IndyCar circus visited Sonoma every year. His was a friendly face and easy quote for the notebook. There are a lot of self-centered egos in the world of racing, but he was a gentle giant. If you spent any appreciable amount of time around him, you would be – as I am – truly gutted and full of grief.

  13. Thank you for posting a wonderfully written history of a fallen motorsport hero. My best to his family in this difficult time. I must say thank you to Justin for allowing us the privilege of watching him race over the years.

    1. Well I hope Joe doesn’t have to do any further such tributes to young drivers this year….Justin was a lovely man, a decent guy and a driver with steel and talents in equal measure.
      I heard his brother Stefan said that at least he lived doing what he loved, and was good at, driving race cars fast and winning in them….few of us get the chance in life to work at what we love doing, and to be successful at it, therefore it has to be said that tragic though his passing is, he lived his life to the limit and there’s no shame in that.
      R.I.P Justin, and thoughts & prayers to all your family and friends all over the world…I’m glad I was able to help your dream just a little bit…and I know you enjoyed the ride while it lasted.

  14. Noooo…
    I had the privilege of meeting Justin at the JWIC AGMs.
    Always approachable, informative and generous with his time.
    Had too many times in his career where he got into a decent car for outside forces to deny him his chance to exploit it properly…Jaguar F1, Newman-Haas, Champ Car breakup etc.

    Never complained and kept plugging away…same story this year finally got into the Andretti team and then this.

    For those who didn’t know him the racer.com tribute “MALSHER: Justin Wilson – A towering talent and a great man” is spot on.

    Justin had amazing car control especially as he was too tall for many cockpits.

    A thoroughly decent bloke who even helped others after his death.

    Justin never got the financial rewards of his go-karting buddies (JB, AD, DW) so I pray others will repay the gesture and help with his young daughters fund.

    So long Justin it was an honour to help you (in a small way) achieve part of your dreams

    A special and inspirational person
    Kevin & Mary-Anne

  15. Thank you for your tribute, Joe. I had the pleasure of meeting Justin at Long Beach many years ago and became a fan. Appreciate the thought you put into this.

  16. Extraordinary sad news received at the time of passing and a very composed post Joe. Rest in peace young man, thoughts with your family and friends.

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