Justin Wilson, the 37-year-old Verizon IndyCar Series driver from Great Britain, died Monday from injuries suffered in Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway. Wilson’s death was announced by Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles at a news conference at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Monday night.
“This is a monumentally sad day for IndyCar and the motorsports community as a whole,” Miles said. “Justin’s elite ability to drive a race car was matched by his unwavering kindness, character and humility — which is what made him one of the most respected members of the paddock. As we know, the racing industry is one big family, and our efforts moving forward will be focused on rallying around Justin’s family to ensure they get the support they need during this unbelievably difficult time.
“He was surrounded by his family and I want to express sincere thanks to his family. As you know the sport of IndyCar racing is one big family. The outpouring of support has been amazing.”
Ed Carpenter spoke on behalf of the drivers to offer his condolences.
“He was great at his craft but beyond that he was a great guy,” said Carpenter, the only driver/owner in IndyCar and the stepson of IndyCar founder Tony George Jr.
Wilson who lived outside Denver in Longmont, Colo., was struck by debris from a single-car crash on Lap 180 of Sunday’s 200-lap race on the 2.5-mile triangular oval. Wilson was attended to by the Holmatro Safety Team and airlifted to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Allentown, Pa.
Among tweets from Wilson’s younger brother, Stefan, also an IndyCar driver:
A native of Sheffield, England, Wilson recorded seven career IndyCar victories — the most recent in 2012 at Texas Motor Speedway — and eight pole starts in 174 races. He totaled 711 career laps led, including two in the Aug. 23 race. He competed in Formula One in 2003 with Minardi and Jaguar, and his initial F1 points were scored that year in the US Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He co-drove a Michael Shank Racing sports car entry to the overall victory in the 50th anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2012.
Wilson, a road cycling and mountain biking enthusiast, also was an ambassador for dyslexia, a learning disorder characterized by difficulty reading that challenged him as a youth. He often would speak to groups at the racetrack and visit schools near IndyCar race venues.
Wilson was in a coma in the intensive care unit at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest on Sunday after being airlifted. Efforts to save him were unsuccessful and he died Monday evening.
Wilson was driving a part-time schedule for Andretti Autosport after a full-season effort fell through because of lack of sponsorship. He started and finished in 18th position in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, and started sixth and finished 21st in the 99th Indianapolis 500.
Wilson did not rejoin the series until the ABC Supply 250 at the Milwaukee Mile on July 12, as he was happy to be able to finish out the second half of the season for Andretti Autosport. He finished 18th at Milwaukee and 17th at Iowa Speedway on July 18 before scoring an impressive second-place finish to Graham Rahal in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on Aug. 2.
At Pocono on Sunday, Sage Karam lost control of his car coming out of the exit of Turn 1 and slammed hard into the wall while leading the race with 21 laps to go ending a dramatic storyline for the 20-year-old driver from nearby Nazareth, Pa. Wilson was also involved in the crash with debris scattering across the track. It appeared part of the nose that had broken loose off Karam’s Chevrolet hit Wilson, rendering him unconscious before he hit the inside wall.
It took an extensive amount of time for the Holmatro Safety Crew to get the driver out of the car because of the severity of his injuries. He was airlifted by helicopter ambulance to the hospital in Allentown.
Karam was released from the same hospital on Monday afternoon after tests showed he had no broken bones in his foot.
Karam was transported by ground to the hospital following the crash on Lap 180. According to Dr. Terry Trammell, IndyCar medical consultant, CT scans revealed no broken bones for the Chip Ganassi Racing Teams driver. Karam, 20, will be re-evaluated before being cleared to drive.
“First and foremost, I just hope everything is OK with Justin Wilson,” Karam said upon his release before Wilson’s death was announced. “Justin is the priority and everything else is secondary at this point. As far as the race, we had a really great race car and I felt comfortable and in a position to be in striking distance for the win. The car just unfortunately came around on me in the middle of Turn 1 and I had no indication it was about to go.”
Wilson was considered one of the most talented drivers in the IndyCar Series because he was competitive on all types of circuits. In 2009, he drove under-funded Dale Coyne Racing to its first victory with a win at Watkins Glen International. In 2012, he drove Dale Coyne Racing’s Honda to another win in the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Wilson was able to get the most out of his race car and that is why he was a competitive force even on smaller teams. His goal was to get a full-time ride at Andretti Autosport — IndyCar’s top Honda team — because he believed it would be his best chance at winning the Indianapolis 500 and an IndyCar Series championship. Instead, he had to settle for part-time duty in an effort partially funded by Honda.
There were times during IndyCar’s long offseason that a new deal on a winning team was all but completed. Problem is, they never came to fruition.
“It’s just been a roller coaster of an offseason,” Wilson told FOXSports.com at Barber Motorsports Park in March while IndyCar had its preseason open test. “There have been three occasions where I’ve thought, ‘Great, we’re all set. Next week we will get a deal sorted for a full season and it will be great. It will be perfect.’ Then next week comes and the deal collapsed. It’s been one of those offseasons where you have a couple good days and then a couple bad days — this cycle or up and down, up and down.
“It just didn’t happen. It didn’t work out like I was hoping. There have been three times with two different teams where I thought we were good to go. And then something happened and two days later the deal was off. The sponsor was all set; looking good and it fell through.
“It’s frustrating,” Wilson admitted. “It ticks you off, but what can you do? You can jump up and down and scream about it, but at the end of the day they either have the money, found the money, got the sponsor or they are making it happen to get to the track. What I’m working on is to try to be less dependent on the situation and be in the right place at the right time. I’m trying to get things sorted and try to take my own deals to the table.
“It’s just a hard world we live in right now and it’s not easy.”
Wilson once had investors who bought shares of stock in his career and that helped fund him from one series to another with stops in Formula One, Champ Car and IndyCar. But that arrangement dissolved and Wilson is in charge of his own destiny.
“That ended at the end of 2012,” Wilson had said. “It was a 10-year process so whatever was saved up got paid back to the shareholders. That was Dec. 31, 2012. That allowed me to change my approach and try to look at the overall picture of things. I think about me as a driver and my career as opposed to what is the best financial decision for the investors? I don’t have to wear that hat any more. Now, I can think what is my best chance to win the Indy 500? That has allowed me to change my approach and evaluate things.
“It’s hard to find the right guy at the right time, and who is interested and tell them spend $2 million to $5 million on IndyCar and it will be great. The odds of that are one in 5000 so there are a lot more doors to knock on.”
Honda and team owner Michael Andretti finally opened one of those doors for Wilson earlier this season on a part-time basis. After nearly winning at Mid-Ohio the former Formula One driver for Jaguar who finished in the points in the 2003 United States Grand Prix in Indianapolis appeared primed to get into Victory Lane before the end of the season.
Justin’s family released the following statement:
With deep sadness, the parents of Justin Wilson, Keith and Lynne, his wife Julia, and his brother Stefan share the news that Justin passed away today after succumbing to injuries suffered during the Verizon IndyCar event at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, August 23.
Justin was a loving father and devoted husband, as well as a highly competitive racing driver who was respected by his peers.
The family would like to thank the staff at the Lehigh Valley Health Network Cedar Crest Hospital, Pocono Raceway, Andretti Autosport, and the Verizon IndyCar Series as well as the entire racing community for the amazing outpouring of support from fans around the world.
The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Wilson Children’s Fund care of INDYCAR.
Wilson Children’s Fund
4551 West 16th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46222
In addition to his wife, Julia, Wilson is survived by two daughters, 7 and 5.
Pocono Raceway, the circuit where the incident took place, released the following statement:
“It is with heavy hearts we express our deepest condolences to the Wilson family. Justin was a talented driver on the track and an amazing person to be around off it. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Justin’s family, his friends, his fans and everyone at Andretti Autosport. He will be missed.”
Chevrolet also released the following statement:
“The motorsports community has suffered a tremendous loss with the passing of Justin Wilson. Justin will be missed. He loved the sport and the fans truly loved him. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family, friends and legions of fans. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Julia, and their two young daughters, and everyone at Andretti Autosport.”
A statement from Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles about the passing of Indianapolis 500 and United States Grand Prix veteran Justin Wilson:
“We’re saddened to have lost such an exceptional driver, friend and role model to many in the INDYCAR community. Justin was one of the most versatile and talented drivers of the last 15 years, as evidenced by his wins in sports cars, Champ Car and INDYCAR. More important than his driving ability was his approachable personality, his calm spirit, and the respect he earned throughout the racing community for the tremendous person, friend, father and husband he was. Justin made innumerable friends and admirers throughout the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR communities. All of us at IMS extend our prayers and deepest sympathy to the Wilson family.”