Spending a few extra days celebrating by soaking up the sun in St Petersburg with his family before heading home to Colorado will be a welcome spring break after a winter of discontent of Justin Wilson.

When Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing didn't renew the Briton's contract because of a lack of sponsorship - despite him winning on the temporary Belle Isle street course last August - he was left to shop around for a ride just to remain in the IndyCar Series. Even as it was rumoured that he was looking elsewhere to keep his career on track, Wilson finally struck a deal with Dale Coyne Racing before the first open test in late February.

"This is a great place for me after a long, tough winter," said Wilson, defying Coyne's reputation as backmarker team making the most of what it has by starting an unexpected second for the 100-lap Honda Grand Prix, "I can't say enough about Dale and the guys.

"I'm very pleased with our first showing together. We've been quick all weekend and I actually think we could have had pole, but unfortunately we were held up and that ruined our best two laps."

Things looked even more promising as he grabbed the lead at turn one and set a blistering pace in the early stages, but fortune had a mixed day of events in store for the #19 Sonny's Bar-B-Q car.

It was nice to get the jump on Graham [Rahal] into turn one and, from that point on, we were just pushing hard, trying to save fuel and do the best we could," Wilson explained, "Unfortunately, the yellow came out just at the wrong point and that put me back in the pack. I had to work my way back through to have a chance of winning the race."

On lap 32, several teams pitted and had the good fortune of a full course yellow on lap 33 which, the #19 having not stopped, would relegate Wilson back to ninth. Seasoned team strategy then forged ahead, running Wilson at a pace necessary to keep in touch with the leaders, and he had battled his way back to third when Ryan Briscoe and Dan Wheldon, then first and second, pitted. At that point, Wilson had three more laps to go before his stop, and gave it everything he had before the team performed a blistering pit-stop that enabled him to shoot out of the pits and back into the lead.

"As I came out of the pits, I saw how close it was going to be," he recalled, "My tyres were cold, but I knew that, if I could get through the next couple of corners, I'd be able to hold onto it. The tyres just came up to temperature and we were able to hang in there."

Things were looking good again as the Briton began to pull away from the field with what appeared to be a clean run to the end of the race, but another caution came out with 15 laps to go, and the ensuing restart proved to be the undoing of what could have been the team's first win in IndyCar.

"Everything was perfect all weekend," Wilson commented, "Qualifying, the race, the pit-stops were all perfect but, at that last restart, the two cars behind got a very good run off turn 14 and I didn't, allowing both of them to pass going into turn one."

The remaining laps ticked off without the former Champ Car series runner-up getting a chance to challenge either Briscoe or Ryan Hunter-Reay, but third place overall still marked a new high for the Coyne team in the unified IndyCar Series.

"Having led the most laps all race and been so strong and been so fast, I'm disappointed not to get the win," Wilson admitted, "but, under the circumstances, I'm very pleased with third. We've got some good people and pulled a team together, and that's what allows you to compete. That's the great thing about this series. I'm just very pleased that the whole Dale Coyne Racing team has done a great job, and I've just got to be very thankful to them for choosing me to drive their car and get a strong first weekend in."

Wilson was drenched from a champagne spray as he celebrated with the two Ryans, but the result still was a touch bittersweet, having led a career-high 52 laps, including the initial 35. It was a feeling shared by his team owner.

"I never thought I would be disappointed with a podium finish," Dale Coyne admitted, "But we truly had the best car of the weekend, and certainly had a well-deserved win in our sights. The team is coming together very nicely and we certainly look forward to the next race in Long Beach."


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