Brit wants to pay tribute to his brother Justin, bring new tech to the Speedway and restart his racing career.
Stefan Wilson, brother of late IndyCar ace Justin Wilson, says he’s feeling positive about being on the grid for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May and honoring the Wilson name.
He told Motorsport.com: “We signed three new partners in the last week, so our sponsorship program is definitely heading in the right direction. However I need a couple more deals to come together to have all the budget I need for a full Indy 500 ride.”
Given there’s likely to be 20 or 21 cars in the full-season IndyCar field, that leaves around a dozen ‘extras’ on the 33-car Indy 500 grid. Some of these slots will be filled by one-off teams, some from permanent teams temporarily expanding, and Wilson said he is favoring a ride with a team from the latter group.
“I’d be looking to join an established outfit,” commented Wilson who was announced as the driver for a Fan Force United entry in 2015 which then failed to make the grid. “I think a full-time team offers the best opportunity for myself as a driver and also my sponsor partners. There are a few teams out there who have a seat available for Indy, but times are moving on so I’m desperate to keep pushing for the rest of the budget.”
Wilson finished third in the Indy Lights championship with Andretti Autosport in 2011 but has made just one IndyCar start – Baltimore 2013 with Dale Coyne Racing, as teammate with his brother. Although he admitted he would ideally like a full-time deal, Wilson said he was focused on the 2016 Indy 500 entry for now.
“I'm concentrating on Indy as it's the best opportunity for the partners I’ve got in place,” he commented. “But if the partners see a return and regard the project as a success, then of course I’d like to see it turn into something bigger. If we were able to add some more races this year and then go full-time in 2017, that would be great. I'm just saying that’s not the focus right now.”
Regarding budget, Wilson admitted it was tough, but he was still anxious "to do the job right" rather than go for a pared-to-the-bone program.
He said: “With everything that we’re trying to do, some of the unique stuff that centers around the whole solar program [see below], we’re aiming for a full budget of around $1m. That should get us a full bells-’n’-whistles deal in terms of tires and engine lease to allow us maximum track time.
“But you know, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it in terms of details. We have a technical partner we can announce in about two weeks, we’re shooting for six to eight weeks to actually have the full program in place. I think if it isn’t sorted by then, it would be tough to put the pieces together in time. Not impossible, but tough.”
Despite largely being on the sidelines since his full-time Lights season ended, 26-year-old Wilson said open-wheel racing was still his major draw. However, he admitted he’d spent some of the winter months in discussion with sports car and GT teams to see what might be available for 2016.
“Yeah, I’ve talked with a lot of teams,” he said, “and I recently got downgraded to a silver level, so I thought I presented a good opportunity for a sports car team – especially Prototype Challenge or GTD. But nothing came up.
“I’m a bit surprised because I thought the conversations could at least have led to a test to show what I could do. That’s all I was really asking for. But who knows? Maybe having more IndyCar starts including the ‘500’ will open more doors there; I don’t know. Like I say, my mind’s on Indy right now.”
Stefan Wilson said he is extra motivated to get back to IndyCar racing because of a desire to pay tribute to his late brother Justin. The seven-time race-winner perished at Pocono in August last year after being struck by flying crash debris.
“I’m determined to do something to honor Justin,” sighed Stefan. “He’s on my mind a lot. It had been a big dream of ours to both be on the grid at the Indy 500. That would have been really special.
“So now I’m thinking about running a helmet for Indy that’s half my design, half Justin’s, with the Justin livery on the right, facing the crowd. I’m not sure about the specifics but then auctioning the helmet off would be good.
“I don’t know if it sounds weird, but I think there’ll be a kind of healing for the family in having the Wilson name on the grid at Indy. It would mean a lot to Mom and Dad to see me on track. And I think [Justin’s wife] Julia and [daughters] Jane and Jessica would appreciate it too.
"They’ve all been very supportive of my efforts to get back to racing, and getting the kids involved in some of the activities would be good, because they had a lot of fun doing that with their dad.”
Stefan Wilson’s sponsorship campaign, #ThinkSolar, is built around a fascination he developed for cleaner power supplies.
He said: “Solar power is something I’ve been very passionate about for five years now. I know I’m involved in a very fossil fuel-dependent environment like motorsport, but I’ve always had a keen appreciation for nature. It’s something I don’t really talk about, but it’s true.
“One day I met the CEO of a solar company, and got to learn a lot more about it, and from there it fueled – no pun intended – this sort of passion in me. I truly believe solar power can be a large part of the solution regarding finding cleaner energy sources, and I want people as immersed in it as I am and adopting it for themselves.
“So I started trying to align myself with companies in that industry, and we’ve been able to find a technical partner we can announce in the next couple of weeks. The pit stand is going to be equipped with solar panels and totally powered by solar energy, so that’s pretty exciting. We're going to be bringing some genuine innovation to the IndyCar product.”