Justin Wilson was enjoying being back in pit lane and behind the wheel of a race car again, after signing up for this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona with Michael Shank Racing.
“It's great to be back,” said Wilson, who was right on the pace on just his second lap back behind the wheel of the #60 MSR Daytona Ford-Riley in practice on Friday. "I did a couple of laps this morning in the car which was my first time in the new Riley and it felt great so I'm cautiously optimistic about what we can do. Hopefully it's going to play out well for us."
Wilson was sidelined for the last five months and missed most of the latter half of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series championship after sustaining back injuries during practice at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August, but has now been declared fully recovered and race fit after his long lay-off.
Wilson is sharing the car with its regular series drivers Ozz Negri and John Pew (a two-time Pro-Am Champion) together with a fellow event 'guest star' in the form of NASCAR Sprint Cup driver and former Champ Cars driver AJ Allmendinger. It is Wilson's fifth Rolex start and his fourth with MSR Daytona, and he has been runner-up twice - including 2006 with MSR, Negri and Allmendinger along with Mark Patterson.
"It's great to team up with John, Ozz, and AJ. It's a good group and I really think we have a good chance to win," said Wilson. "Mike always does such a great job with his team and it's a privilege to be a part of it," he added. "I think we just need to keep working hard, keep our heads down and see what happens."
“I couldn't be happier to get Justin and AJ back for the 24 this year,” said team owner Mike Shank, who announced last year that he is also planning on running an entry in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012. "We know that it takes speed, smarts, and experience to get to the podium here and having guys like Justin and AJ on board for the 24 is a big advantage. They are team players, and everyone is really focused on a big result."
The team is currently undergoing a three-day practice and set-up preparation at Daytona International Speedway, which concludes on Sunday. The Rolex 24 At Daytona race itself is on January 28-29.
While tweeting some light-hearted banter from pit lane at Daytona, Wilson also admitted that "I was laying low after [Thursday's] rumour, hope to have more about that soon" - referring to a news story broken by the SPEED US motorsport cable channel that Wilson had signed a deal to move to Dale Coyne Racing in the 2012 IndyCar season.
Wilson drove for Dale Coyne Racing in 2009 and managed to win the team their maiden series victory in 25 years of competition, finding victory lane at Watkins Glen. He also finished on the podium at Long Beach and led for 28 laps at Mid-Ohio with the team that year, but contract extension negotiations broke down and Wilson opted for a two-year deal at Dreyer & Reinbold in 2010-2011.
SPEED reported that accompanying Wilson to Dale Coyne Racing would be engineer Bill Pappas and possibly veteran engineer John Dick, and that the team would also announce a deal with Honda for engines. However, the story has not yet been confirmed by either Wilson or the team since it was initially reported.
It had previously been reported that former Champ Car and F1 driver Sebastien Bourdais might be tempted to return to IndyCar full-time in 2012, after running a road course-only campaign last year. The team had also seemed to indicate that it would continue with another Briton, James Jakes, as its second driver.