Stefan Wilson hired to drive 33rd car at Indianapolis 500
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — British driver Stefan Wilson spent an entire year searching for a spot in this year’s Indianapolis 500 field.
The journey proved equally challenging for team owners Don Cusick and Elton Julian — until they joined forces.
On Thursday, the trio announced it solved two problems by putting the 32-year-old Wilson in the No. 25 Chevrolet, giving race organizers a 33rd entrant and almost certainly a full starting grid for the May 29 race.
“It’s been a journey,” Wilson said. “We began work on this June 1st of last year. We had these plans that should have been so easy and it just didn’t end up that way. There was, I think, a time when we all sort of had given up. But I carried on working, carried on making calls.”
And now the IndyCar veteran will be rewarded with another chance to compete in “the greatest spectacle in racing” after finishing 33rd last year.
Getting here, though, required some unusual twists and turns including a two-plus hour meeting in the California desert between Julian and Cusick as Wilson waited anxiously for an answer.
Eventually, Julian’s DragonSpeed team, which put its IndyCar program on hold during the pandemic, and Cusick, who made his first IndyCar start last May, took a car from A.J. Foyt’s stable and decided to give it a shot.
“I didn’t know those fellows before, though I’m old enough to remember A.J. winning races,” Cusick said. “But Larry (Foyt) has been very welcoming and helpful and we’re very thankful for everything they’ve done.”
Wilson brings a familiar name with emotional ties back to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He will attempt to make his fourth career start again using the same number his older brother, Justin, drove with when he died from injuries suffered during an IndyCar race at Pocono in August 2015.
This time, the car will feature a black, blue, red and white paint scheme with a full array of sponsors including women’s golf apparel company Lohla Sport, Sierra Pacific Windows and Gnarly Premium Cut Jerky.
Wilson will be using a Chevy engine for the first time since his rookie appearance at Indy and could help Cusick and Julian put their long-term plans back on track. Both would like to run more races in the IndyCar series.
Julian thought the lingering financial woes from the pandemic wouldn’t let him come back to Indy until next year following the sale of his IndyCar equipment to Michael Shank Racing. Brazilian Helio Castroneves won his record-tying fourth 500 last year while driving for Shank.
Instead, Cusick and Wilson, who have worked this season on the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup circuit, provided Julian with a path back to Indy.
“We’re coming back basically a year earlier than I had hoped,” Julian said. “In the back of my mind it was always ’23, ’23, even if it was just the 500. I wasn’t thinking about it too much this year and heard all the rumblings of I’d like to but I can’t, so I put my hand up.”
Wilson has been competitive on the Brickyard’s historic 2.5-mile oval. He led the 2018 race with four laps to go when his car ran out of fuel, dropping him to a career-best 15th-place finish.
He won’t have much time to fine-tune his car with qualifying scheduled for May 21-22.
Wilson isn’t even sure he’ll have enough time time to work on Chevy’s simulator. Instead, he will spend these precious few days building a relationship with his new engineer, crew members and other team officials.
The announcement ends weeks of speculation about who would become the 33rd entry. Mark Miles, the CEO of IndyCar’s parent company Penske Entertainment, said in April he expected at least one more car and possibly two to turn laps at the 500.
Now if qualifying weekend goes as planned, the traditional 33-car field should take the green flag. And Wilson intends to be ready for anything including the possibility of a 34th entry trying to keep him out of the race.
“We have to execute as a team,” Wilson said. “And I have to execute as a driver.”
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