Many would call gaining 14 positions to finish seventh in the Indianapolis 500 -- running third on multiple occasions and fifth on the restart with seven laps left – a great day. Justin Wilson appreciates the sentiment, though he’ll stick to the claim of having “a top-three car.”
"We would get shuffled back a few spots, but then immediately come right back in a lap or two,” said the driver of the Honda-powered Sonny’s BBQ car for Dale Coyne Racing who recorded his third top 10 in the five IZOD IndyCar Series races. "The car in front of me slowed me up and kept me from getting a fast (Lap 194) restart. The wind also played a factor as it was very difficult to pass in Turns 1 and 2. The team gave me a great car to drive."
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Replace the Speedway aero package with the road/street course wings and Wilson is expecting another great car this weekend for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix as the IZOD IndyCar Series returns to the 2.07-mile, 14-turn circuit for the first time since 2008.
Wilson was the winner, driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, in the penultimate race of a trying season. It was the first year in the series for the team, which had mixed results (six top 10s in 14 races; four DNFs). Also, the health of team co-owner Paul Newman was deteriorating.
“I really enjoyed getting that win for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing and feel like I got to prove myself after a very difficult year,” Wilson said. “Paul passed away weeks after. Great memories, but some sadness, too.”
Wilson’s No. 02 McDonald’s car assumed the lead on Lap 73 of 87 when Race Control black-flagged Helio Castroneves for blocking.
“It’s not the way you really want to win the race, though I felt we had the quickest car all day,” said Wilson, who led 15 laps. “I tried to put a move to get the lead and had to hit the brakes instead. They reversed the positions and got the lead and pulled ahead (to win by 4.4058 seconds).”
More than $6 million in site improvements have been made to the Raceway at Belle Isle since racing was reinvigorated in 2007 after a six-year absence, including 460,000 square feet of concrete for the paddock and 150,000 square feet of concrete to the road course.
Like any street course, it’s bumpy. But that “adds character,” according to Wilson.
“You’ll never please a driver; we’re always trying to improve the track,” he said. “You want the corners to be faster and the track to be smoother so everything is flat out. We’re always looking for something better than what we have; it’s part of our job. It's a driver's track. It's challenging to overtake at Belle Isle but you can.
“The (new car) was good in Brazil, and at Long Beach it was the best car I’ve ever driven there. I’m looking forward to getting back there. It’s great for the city of Detroit and it lets the rest of the world know that yes we’ve had some difficult times but we’re on the increase and will climb out of this and will put on a top sporting event. There are lots of things they’re doing to attract more than diehard race fans, but the race fans will come because we’re in the center of the automobile world.”