For every IndyCar Series driver, Monday’s first day of Indianapolis 500 practice was a chance to get reacquainted with all that’s fast about Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
For Stefan Wilson, it was more than that – uniquely personal, a chance to experience the famed oval as his older brother, Justin, knew it.
Justin was an eight-time 500 starter who died last August after car debris struck him at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, and he had more than a brotherly bond with Stefan, who was 11 years his junior. They used to ride to the track together, even on long road trips, talking race strategy along the way. They just couldn’t share the experience of driving an Indy car around most tracks, including this famed oval.
Here, Stefan would watch Justin from the team’s pit box or, as was the case the past two years, he’d monitor the action from high above Turn 1. See, Stefan, a onetime Indy Lights driver with one IndyCar start (Baltimore street race 2013), was one of the people Justin trusted to guide him through the 500, so Stefan donned a headset and helped talk his hero through the paces.
“I always joked that it was probably easier for him in the car than it was for me standing up there in Turn 1 for three hours,” Stefan said.
The tables effectively turned Monday. Stefan got his first chance to drive an Indy car here; his brother surely was watching from above. There were the expected emotions flowing through the 26-year-old rookie.
The drive into the facility was difficult, and there were all the expected reminders of a venue his brother loved. But Stefan went out and did the job, passing IndyCar’s three-phase rookie orientation program, then stretching his legs some in the full practice.
He ran 38 laps with a top speed of 222.007 mph. That ranked 28th of 33, but it was a start.
“We achieved everything we needed to do on day one,” he said.
Stefan didn’t mention it, but there had to be a bit of hollowness. Justin should have been here to see what Stefan saw of him all those years.
Stefan is honoring his brother’s legacy in so many ways in this event. The car number is 25, which Justin used last year with Andretti Autosport (he qualified sixth, finished 21st). Before the May 29 race, that number will be shaded in yellow, green and blue as Justin would have preferred it.
Stefan has a new helmet coming, too, and the design features Justin’s style on one side, his own on the other. Stefan described the helmet while wearing the Justin-inspired British-colored socks being sold online to benefit those plagued with dyslexia.
Stefan’s car highlights the efforts of the Indiana Donor Network in its Driven2SaveLives campaign, which promotes organ, tissue and eye donation and transplantation.
This was a day to remember, for sure, for past and present reasons.
“The speed was pretty impressive,” he said. “Having driven here before, you know how long to expect to get down to the (corner) apex, but the first couple laps I was so amazed how quickly you cover that ground between the turn-in and the apex. It seems like it was in fast forward.
“I was pretty nervous, really, and excited at the same time. I just wanted to get out there and feel what it’s like to drive an Indy car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”
Now he knows what Justin knew.
1. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 228.978
2. (26) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 228.945
3. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 228.033
4. (98) Alexander Rossi (R), Honda, Honda, 226.865
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Chevy, 226.835
6. (29) Townsend Bell, Honda, 226.724
7. (42) Charlie Kimball, Chevy, 225.858
8. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 225.326
9. (12) Will Power, Chevy, 224.981
10. (88) Bryan Clauson, Honda, 224.767
11. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevy, 224.738
12. (8) Max Chilton (R), Chevy, 224.639
13. (2) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevy, 224.613
14. (21) Josef Newgarden, Chevy, 224.495
15. (19) Gabby Chaves, Honda, 224.387
16. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevy, 224.322
17. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevy, 224.265
18. (24) Sage Karam, Chevy, 224.065
19. (77) Oriol Servia, Honda, 224.042
20. (14) Takuma Sato, Honda, 223.826
21. (63) Pippa Mann, Honda, 223.522
22. (11) Sebastian Bourdais, Chevy, 223.055
23. (6) JR Hildebrand, Chevy, 222.901
24. (16) Spencer Pigot (R), Honda, 222.816
25. (61) Matt Brabham (R), Chevy, 222.578
26. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 222.486
27. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevy, 222.013
28. (25) Stefan Wilson (R), Chevy, 222.007
29. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 221.319
30. (35) Alex Tagliani, Honda, 220.715
31. (18) Conor Daly, Honda, 217.627
32. (41) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 213.586
33. (4) Buddy Lazier, Chevy, 212.641
News Source: www.indystar.com