Stefan Wilson is still racing with a purpose.
Continuing to draw inspiration from his late brother, the 28-year-old Brit will carry the names of Americans waiting for an organ transplant as part of the Driven2SaveLives campaign on the livery of his Andretti Autosport Honda for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May. Fittingly, the No. 25 car will carry the names of 25 individuals on the wait list.
Stefan’s brother, Justin Wilson, died from injuries sustained in a crash at Pocono Raceway in 2015. Known as one of the friendliest and most helpful drivers in the INDYCAR paddock, Justin Wilson gave a final time then by donating organs that saved and extended the lives of five individuals.
“So the story about Driven2SaveLives really starts with my brother, Justin,” Stefan Wilson says.
“When he passed away in 2015, he was able to save five lives. And this partnership with the Indiana Donor Network, I really wanted to focus on the people that this really is about, the people that we’re driven to save.”
More than 115,000 Americans are currently on the national wait list for an organ transplant. Stefan Wilson wants to shine a light on their plight and is using his Indianapolis 500 car as a platform.
“I really felt like this was a unique opportunity to showcase them and really focus on what is important with Driven2SaveLives, and that is that we’re trying to help those people on the wait list,” he said. “By putting their names on the car, we’re currently trying to get people that are on the national wait list to register on driven2savelives.org.
“It’s cool that we’re able to represent them on the car at Indy this year, putting their names on different areas of the car and doing stories on each of those names so people can associate who we’re trying to affect and help.”
An entrant in the 2016 edition of the Indianapolis 500, Stefan Wilson had a ride set for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” last year with Andretti Autosport, but he graciously stepped aside to open the door for two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso to have a car available. In some ways, Stefan's selfless decision mirrored those of his brother. Now, Wilson is eager to end the wait and get back in the car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It’s going to be two years since I last raced the 500 when I jump in the car in May,” said Wilson, who finished 28th in his lone Indy 500 start in a KV Racing Technology entry sponsored by Driven2SaveLives.
“Obviously, we were really hopeful to race last year and then circumstances happened. I had a choice to delay and come back this year, and that is ultimately what happened.
“I just really want to focus on May this year, on executing my role as a driver for Andretti Autosport and see what comes of it. As long as I execute and do the best I can, and I know the rest of the team will, we’ll just see what happens.”
Although he owns just two career Verizon IndyCar Series starts – his first was as a teammate to Justin at Baltimore in 2013 – Stefan Wilson has confidence driving with Andretti Autosport, the reigning two-time Indy 500 champion and winner of three of the last four Indy 500s.
“It gives me a lot of confidence and puts a little bit of pressure on me,” admitted the two-time race winner in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, INDYCAR’s top development series. “As a driver, for me, every day I’m working out or watching tape or reading and thinking that I don’t want to let that team down, because they’ve won three out of the four. They are definitely firing on all cylinders and I just don’t want to be the weakest link.
“It’s a good motivator for me and, at the same time, it’s not lost on me that this might be the best chance I ever get to win the 500.”
Wilson will be surrounded by formidable talent at Andretti. Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014) and Alexander Rossi (2016) are past Indy 500 winners. Marco Andretti (2006) and Carlos Munoz (2013, ’16) have each finished second.
“That’s honestly one of the biggest things I see as being a strong point for Andretti Autosport, is the amount of personnel that we have on the team, the amount of clever engineers and really experienced drivers,” Wilson said.
“I think that gives the team a really good boost going into May. Even though it is a new car, I feel that we can figure out things quicker than if we were a smaller team. So I think that’s a positive, I think that’s going to help us.
“At the same time, it’s the double-edged sword of the fact that I have five extra guys that have the same equipment as me that I’ve got to try and beat.”
In his continuing effort to support those needing organ donations, Wilson recently spent time with lung transplant recipients at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. See his visit here: