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.