This popular 6ft 3in tall Yorkshireman was a Formula 1 driver for a season and a winner in both Europe and North America. The only British driver to win the Formula 3000 title, he won races in both Champ Cars and the IndyCar Series. That he should lose his life when driving for a leading team at last, is a cruel irony.
Early racing career
Justin Wilson started racing cars in the 1995 Formula Vauxhall Junior series. He spent the next two seasons with Paul Stewart Racing in the senior Vauxhall series and finished as runner-up in 1996. Without the funds to race in Formula 3, Wilson won the 1998 Palmer Audi Championship and benefited from promoter Jonathan Palmer’s guidance thereafter.
Wilson moved directly into F3000 with Team Astromega in 1999 and scored a couple of early season sixth place finishes. With Nordic Racing for his second F3000 season, Wilson was second in Austria and fifth in the championship. He remained with the team for 2001 and became Britain’s first F3000 champion with a record tally of podium finishes and points scored.
However, Wilson was unable to find an F1 ride so he drove for Racing Engineering in the inaugural World Series by Nissan in 2002 – winning twice and finishing fourth overall.
Formula 1 with Minardi and Jaguar
At last, Wilson had his F1 opportunity in 2003 with Minardi. His performances for the Italian minnows led to a mid-season switch to the better-funded but underachieving Jaguar Racing from the German Grand Prix. Wilson ended the year with a championship point by finishing eighth in the United States GP.
Subsequent North American career
That did not warrant a new contract and Wilson sought refuge in Champ Cars – initially with Conquest before establishing himself with RuSport from 2005. A breakthrough victory at Toronto followed and Wilson clinched third in the championship by winning the final round in Mexico from pole position. He was runner-up to Sébastien Bourdais in 2006 (despite missing a race due to a broken wrist) and won 2007’s Dutch round.
With a contract to lead reigning champions Newman-Haas in the 2008 Champ Car World Series, Wilson and the team switched the rival IndyCar Series as American open-wheel racing reunified. However, the team struggled to adapt although both Graham Rahal and Wilson won on street courses – the Englishman successful on Detroit’s Belle Isle.
He spent 2009 with Dale Coyne Racing and won at Watkins Glen to score the perennial backmarker team’s first victory. Wilson then joined Dreyer & Reinbold and 2010 included early-season second place finishes at St Petersburg and Long Beach, 11 laps in the lead at Indianapolis and pole position in Toronto. However, his second season with the team was cut short by compressed vertebrae suffered in a practice accident at Mi-Ohio.
Fit again, Wilson began 2012 in the winning Michael Shank Racing Riley-Ford at the Daytona 24 Hours. He returned to Coyne for that year’s IndyCar Series and Wilson was successful once more – taking advantage of Rahal’s late mistake in Texas to score the team’s second victory in the championship.
Indycar move to Andretti Autosport
Fifth in the 2013 Indianapolis 500, he was second at sears Point as he finished sixth in the championship for Coyne. The following season was less competitive and Wilson began 2015 without a regular ride. He joined Andretti Autosport for a limited schedule that included both Indianapolis races and a one-off Formula E appearance in Moscow. He replaced Simona de Silvestro in the team’s number 25 car from July’s Milwaukee race, enjoying an opportunity with a top Indycar team at last.
Two weeks after finishing second at Mid-Ohio, Wilson’s helmet was struck by debris from a crashing car during the Pocono 500. He suffered severe head injuries from which he succumbed on the following day.