Justin Wilson has moved himself firmly into contention for the IndyCar Series' Bombardier LearJet rookie of the year title after claiming a first win of the year at Detroit's Belle Isle Raceway.
The Briton was clearly the fastest man on track when long-time Helio Castroneves attempted to prevent him from passing for the lead with just a handful of laps remaining. Race officials took a dim view of the Brazilian's actions and, despite him being involved in a title battle with Scott Dixon, insisted that Wilson be allowed to gain the place.
Once in front, the Newman/Haas/Lanigan driver eased out to a four-second margin of victory to gain maximum points and take a huge bit out of Hideki Mutoh's rookie standings advantage. It was his first win for the NHLR operation, and the team's second of its first season in the IRL, following team-mate Graham Rahal's success in St Petersburg, and Wilson was particularly pleased to be able to repay the ailing Paul Newman's faith in him.
“The McDonald's team did a fantastic job,” Wilson said, “It was a long tough day, but we managed to stay clean and got great strategy and good pit-stops. I was so desperate to get a victory this year, my first one in IndyCar and my first one with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, so this means a lot. It's the most important win of my career.
"It's something I really wanted to do, as Paul is a great part of the team. He calls me after every single race, and he passes on his regards to how well we've done or how unlucky we've been. It's great to finally be able to repay his comments and nice words."
Having returned to Fast Six qualifying on Saturday, Wilson started from fourth and moved up to third by staying out on track behind Castroneves and Oriol Servia when early race leader Scott Dixon pitted under a full course yellow on lap 19. After saving fuel in the initial stages of the race, the Briton was also able to go a lap longer than the Spaniard, before making his first pit-stop on lap 32, rejoining in second place as a result.
From that point on, he not only became a thorn for Castroneves to deal with, but also felt that the #02 car had the potential to win the race.
“The more tyre rubber that went down, the better it got,” he explained, “I was very pleased with the way the car was working. Once we went a lap further than Oriol Servia on that first stop, I figured 'okay, we've got something we can race with'.”
After making an initial challenge on Castroneves between laps 39 and 44, Wilson dropped back into a comfortable second place to save fuel. His second and final pit-stop of the afternoon was uneventful, but preceded the decisive moment of the race. As the race restarted after a full course caution on lap 69, the Briton defied his cold tyres to renew pressure on Castroneves, forcing the Brazilian to move across the road in an attempt to block what appeared to be a certain passing move.