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'Fastest man' Wilson thwarted by late Indy 500 caution

27 May 2013

For most of the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500, Dale Coyne Racing driver Justin Wilson was rather anonymous. Putting in the laps, getting the miles under his belt with no significant drama in the mid-field, he looked a safe pair of hands - but not, perhaps, a very likely winner.

That all changed in the final portion of the race,when the Englishman lit the blue touch paper and exploded into action, setting the fastest time of the entire race (226.940mph) on lap 185 as he moved up from what had been 14th place on the grid to fifth position by the finish.

“I was surprised at how quickly we went backwards," admitted team owner Dale Coyne after early setbacks. "And just as happily surprised at how quickly we went forwards!"

If those final laps hadn't been interrupted by two late cautions, (for Graham Rahal crashing on lap 193 and then Dario Franchitti hitting the wall at the restart on lap 197 which meant the race finished under yellow) then who knows where that sort of momentum might have taken the 34-year-old from Sheffield?

"I think we had a legitimate shot if the thing would have stayed green, agreed Coyne. "We're real pleased with the end result. It was fantastic. It was amazing to watch, all day long."

“The #19 Boy Scouts of America car was fantastic," agreed Wilson, reflecting on his day's work at surely the most spectacular 'office' in the world. "Early on we were moving forward then with the second or third set of tyres we had a blistering issue, so we had no grip and lost 10 mph a lap.

"We just hung on until the next pit stop. The guys gave me great pit stops and we just kept working away at it to get a top-five. It was a great day," he said, paying particular thanks to his experienced race engineer Bill Pappas.

“He drove a hell of a race," beamed Pappas, very proud of his driver's efforts in the race. "He is so smart, with that one set of tyres not working - a lot of people would have crashed the car or parked it. But he just hung on and we just tried to keep telling him there was a long way to go, a lot of stops left. His general pace was very competitive, he just kept hanging on. He's just one of a kind, without a doubt."

"We had a chance. The car was working great and I'm really pleased with fifth," picked up Wilson. "It's strange finishing under yellow [but] we knew it was going to happen. There were so many marbles out there. The road was blocked three wide [on the restart] and I just had to pick a line through there trying to attack but also trying not to lose anything – it's tough."

Fifth place is Wilson's best-ever Indianapolis finish in six starts, and means that he was the highest-placed of the Honda contingent of cars in an event that had been completely dominated right from Opening Day two weeks previously by the Chevrolet runners. Wilson was proud to be carrying the Japanense manufacturer's colours here at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the month of May.

“I love this place," he said, clearly another racer bitten by the Indy 500 bug in a big way. "It's special. There is nothing quite like doing 225 mph around here. It feels fantastic.

"It's a real thinking circuit so you've got to be at the right spot at the right time," he added, also thinking back to his time in F1 during which he competed in the US Grand Prix on the infield road course at IMS which uses only a part of the famed 2.5-mile superspeedway oval.

Wilson's F1 background means that he's usually seen as a road course specialist, but in recent times something has 'clicked' for the English driver when it comes to ovals as well. He won his first IndyCar oval race in 2012 with his victory at Texas Motor Speedway, and looked absolutely born to race the Indy 500 this month.

If he came up short this time, he can look to the 12th-time-lucky example of the 2013 champion celebrating in victory circle on Sunday. And while he might have preferred to have won the race himself, Wilson sounds genuinely and thrilled as he talks about the man who did pull it off this year.

"It's great to see Tony Kanaan win," said Wilson. "He is a great guy. He's come so close so many years. I'm really pleased for him."

And Wilson can take consolation in the fact that he's shot up to sixth place in a wide-open IZOD IndyCar Series championship battle, which resumes next weekend with the double header event at Detroit Belle Isle.


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