Former Grand Prix driver turned IndyCar frontrunner Justin Wilson is today celebrating his 34th birthday!
Considered by many as better suited (by dint of his impressive height) to be a basketball player, Sheffield-born Wilson’s rise through the motorsport ranks was fairly straightforward until he took the unusual decision of joining the Formula Palmer Audi series in 1998 when he ran out of money.
He won the championship crown, and his prize was a drive in Formula 3000 with the Astromega outfit. He joined the Coca-Cola Nordic team the following year, and he won the title in 2001, becoming the first British driver to do so.
A test drive for Jordan didn’t lead to a full-time offering on account of his height, and so he bided his time in the Telefonica World Series championship. Plans to slot him in as Alex Yoong’s stand-in at Minardi during the mid-season got nowhere when he again couldn’t fit in the cockpit.
But Minardi elected to build a bigger car for him for the 2003 season, and together with his manager Jonathan Palmer, Wilson raised the necessary funds by floating himself on the London Stock Exchange. He performed well against team-mate Jos Verstappen, – often making some blistering starts from the back of the grid – and he was sold to the Jaguar team mid-season to replace Antônio Pizzonia. He claimed one championship point with an eighth-placed finish at Indianapolis.
A full-time role for 2004 didn’t eventuate, and he ventured to the United States, joining the Champ Car series, taking his first win in 2005. In 2006, he finished runner-up to Sébastien Bourdais, before going on to become a regular on the IndyCar Series scene when Champ Cars merged with the Indy Racing League.
[Images via LAT, Sutton Images]