One of the most frequent comments made over the years about Justin Wilson was that he never had a bad word to say about anyone - ever. Even more significantly, no one had ever said or even heard a bad word about him in return either. As the outpouring of grief from around the world and across dozens of different motor racing categories following his untimely passing on Monday night ably demonstrates, he had long been one of the best-liked and most-loved drivers working in the sport today.

Wilson's nickname 'Bad Ass' was therefore in one sense a wildly ironic one. His reputation was of being the most friendly and charming individual, a 'gentle giant' who always stood out thanks to his sizeable six-foot-four-inch frame, which at one point had threatened to ruin any hopes of a successful motorsport career. In fact it simply meant that Wilson worked even harder than most to propel himself through the motorsport 'school of hard knocks.' Sure enough, he soon started to overcome the disadvantage of the lanky frame which always put him literally head and shoulders above his fellow competitors in the paddock, even during his early years of karting and into Formula Vauxhall where he raced with Paul Stewart Racing for three seasons. 'Bad Ass' might have started off as an ironic nickname in personal terms, but when it came to racing it would prove to be fully-earned by his being one of the fiercest and most driven competitors out on the track - and success soon started to come his way as a result.

Proceeding to dominate the inaugural Formula Palmer Audi series in 1998 with nine wins and getting a nod as a finalist for the McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year award earned Wilson a chance to make the considerable leap into the FIA International Formula 3000 championship with Team Astromega, where he got on the scoreboard twice - including at his d?but race in Imola - to earn the attention of the British Nordic Racing team which signed him for 2000.

Success was more noticeable this time. Wilson got on the podium twice - at Silverstone and the A1 Ring - to end the year fifth overall, just one point behind Fernando Alonso and five points adrift of Mark Webber. Staying with Nordic Racing for another season in 2001, Wilson proceeded to dominate ahead of better fancied rivals - including Webber and Tomas Enge - to win three races and stand on the podium a total of nine times out of 11 races to win the title by a record-breaking margin of 32 points.

Despite this and getting his first taste of F1 machinery with Jordan during 2002, his F1 aspirations were put on hold after accepting a move to the Nissan World Series for that year, where he once again more than defied issues related to his height to win twice en route to fourth overall. However it was during that season that Wilson's F1 dream began to become a reality; indeed, Wilson had always been a target for Minardi for 2002 but his initial chance had been thwarted by being too tall when he had been considered in line to replace Alex Yoong for two races.

However the seed had been planted and - courtesy of some savvy pre-coined crowd-funding investment from manager Jonathan Palmer - he not only worked himself into the available drive at the team for 2003, but Minardi even designed the car around his frame. Comparing favourably with his experienced team-mate Jos Verstappen, Wilson was given the chance to shine at the more competitive Jaguar Racing team towards the end of the season in replacement for the out-of-favour Antonio Pizzonia, though ultimately his Grand Prix racing highlight would be limited to a single points finish in eighth at the United States Grand Prix.

With Ford seeking to cut the amount of money they were pouring into F1, Wilson was let go in favour of Christian Klein who was able to bring his own funding to the team via sponsorship deals. Wilson looked instead to America for the next phase of his driving career and signed a full-season deal with Mi-Jack Conquest Racing to compete in the Champ Car World Series in 2004.

He immediately felt at home in the world of US open wheel competition. The following year he moved to the RuSPORT team where would stay for the next three years, initially alongside AJ Allmendinger and then subsequently Cristiano da Matta, Ryan Briscoe and Alex Tagliani. In a total of 40 starts with the team he picked up four wins in Toronto, Edmonton, Mexico and the Netherlands along with ten further podium finishes. He was twice runner-up in the championship in 2006 and 2007, but he was not quite able to clinch the title on either occasion.

The following year, the reunification of Champ Car and the Indy Racing League to form the modern IndyCar Series saw Wilson move to Newman-Haas-Lanigan Racing. In 2009 he spent a year with Dale Coyne Racing and then in 2010 he signed for two seasons at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. Although none of these teams were championship-winning calibre, Wilson still managed to pick up two more race wins and two runners-up positions during this period.

Wilson's time at DRR was cut short when an innocuous-looking run-off during practice at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August 2011 left him with a serious back compression injury that put him out of competition for the rest of the year. He more than signalled he was back to race fitness when he made his racing return at the 50th Rolex 24 at Daytona the following January where he was part of the winning Michael Shanks Racing line-up alongside AJ Allmendinger, Oswaldo Negri and John Pew.

That reinvigorated Wilson for his return to IndyCar competition and for three more years at Dale Coyne Racing, which included a win against the odds at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012. The following year he made it to the podium on a further four separate occasions. However he was then involved in a serious accident at Auto Club Speedway during the 2013 season finale that left him with a fractured pelvis, and while he had recovered by the start of the following season it appeared that success was now increasingly hard to come by, both for himself and the team. They parted company at the end of 2014, leaving Wilson without a permanent race seat for the first time in over a decade.

Such a talent is never on the sidelines for long, however, and it appeared that Wilson's fortunes were looking up when he was tapped by Andretti Autosport to race for them at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May in both the road course race and for his eighth outing in the famous Indianapolis 500. He immediately fitted in with the team and found a home alongside regular drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti, and the team snapped him up for a Formula E appearance in Moscow before then finding the sponsorship needed to bring him home to IndyCar for the final five races of the season starting at Milwaukee in July.

He rewarded the team's trust by clinching a podium at Mid-Ohio a few weeks later, and he arrived at his next race at Pocono looking in the best form he had been for years. He ran near the front for most of the afternoon, which meant he was nearby when race leader Sage Karam spun out with 21 laps to go. Tragically, it was the debris from Karam's accident that inflicted a terrible head injury on Wilson who had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time, a million-to-one incident that was nobody's fault but which had the worst possible consequences.

Wilson's death comes just four years after fellow Englishman Dan Wheldon succumbed to injuries sustained in an accident at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It's also only a month since F1 driver Jules Bianchi passed away, having spent nine months in a coma after also suffering mortal head injuries in a freak accident of his own at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014. These tragedies are bound to reopen the debate about whether it is finally time to add some form of cockpit cover to open-top cars racing in IndyCar and F1 in the future so that no one else should die or be injured in a similar manner in the future.

Justin's untimely death aged just 37 leaves IndyCar and the wider motorsport community around the world numb with grief. He is survived by his wife Julia and their two daughters, Jane Louise Wilson and Jessica Lynne Wilson, aged seven and five respectively. His younger brother Stefan is an accomplished race car driver who has competed in the IndyCar Series and Indy Lights.

Our heartfelt condolences go to Justin's family, friends and loved ones today, and to his colleagues, former team mates and rivals, as well as everyone across the world of motorsport who knew, respected and most of all liked and loved the charming lad from Sheffield who followed his dreams all the way to the pinnacle of the sport about which he was always so passionate.

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