Stefan Wilson feels he's "starting to write own chapter"
Stefan Wilson, who led the Indy 500 as late as Lap 195 but was classified 15th, says he’s still encouraged by his and the team’s performance, and the reaction from his sponsors, family and fans.
Wilson, carrying support from the Indiana Donor Network's "Driven2SaveLives" campaign in honor of his late brother Justin, drove his Andretti Autosport-Honda from 23rd on the grid to lead the race as his team gambled on fuel strategy.
On the final restart, at the end of Lap 192, Wilson and then Jack Harvey, on a similar strategy for Meyer Shank Racing, burst out from behind erstwhile leader Oriol Servia and Wilson led three laps, but the lack of yellow flags in the final laps meant he, Harvey and Servia had to duck into the pits before the end.
“If the last yellow [for Tony Kanaan’s accident] had been three laps longer or if there had been another yellow, we’d have probably made it,” Wilson told Motorsport.com. “
We were four laps of green short, but with three more laps of yellow, we’d have at least attempted to make it to the final lap. It was close.
“I knew I was screwed, I knew when I had taken the green that we were going to fall short if it went green to the end, but it was important to still go for it, because if I’m in the lead and the yellow comes out… we’ve got it. So the whole #25 team rolled the dice but we knew what we were getting into.
"When the [Sage Karam-caused] yellow came out, we knew we were making our supposed last stop way early, Lap 158, but we all kind of agreed that yeah, we’re going to go for it. It was worth trying.”
Wilson did think of a scenario that would have been far worse than dropping from 1st to 15th at the checkers.
“When you roll across the line and they tell you to pit next time by, you think, ‘What if a yellow comes out just as we peel off to pit?!’ Can you imagine? If that had happened, I’d have been mortified. As it is, we took a win-or-bust gamble and it almost paid off. So that’s fine.”
Wilson said he had been proud not only to lead the race, but also unlapping himself from eventual winner Will Power as he sat in Jay Howard’s draft.
“Yeah. That was a big moment for me!” said the 28-year-old. “It shows we were genuinely quick. I had been conservative pretty much the whole race until the final restart.
"Because I had been out of the car for two years, if I had taken risks and one of them hadn’t paid off and I’d crashed, then people would have looked at it as if, ‘He’s been out of a car for two years. What else did you expect?’ And that would be damaging the chances of me coming back.
“So although I kept making up places, I was then almost giving them back by being conservative in the restarts. Looking back, I wish I’d been a little bit more aggressive, but when your future is so uncertain, you don’t feel like you can take the kind of risks that others can.
“But yeah, getting past Will was a huge moment because for so many years I’ve been watching IndyCar and watched that No. 12 Penske running at the front, so to legitimately pass… it wasn’t like he just handed it to me. He was trying to lap Jay and lost a bit of momentum and I got past both of them. So that was a big moment.
“And then of course, getting the lead… As I said last night at my speech in the banquet, it felt like one of those moments that help me start writing my own chapter, my own story.
"My mum finds it hard to watch the race, she always worries for me, but seeing me lead those laps and seeing the reaction from the fans when I did hit the front, that was a good moment, an uplifting moment after what we’ve been through as a family.”
Wilson, who last year gave up his Andretti-Honda deal to two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso on the promise that Michael Andretti and HPD would return the favor in 2018, said he has nothing lined up for the remainder of this season, nor any guarantees for 2019, but was satisfied this Month of May had helped establish himself a little more.
“These people have only seen me in action sporadically over the last few years, since I was in Indy Lights. So they only look at me as Justin’s kid brother," he said.
"This month we had a great run, after two years out of a car, and that was important. I kept the car in one piece, I’ve shown the team owners in two Months of May that I can look after the equipment, not overstep the limit, and in the right equipment I can be competitive.
"I hope I can come back next year. But there’s nothing set in stone right now.”
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