Stefan Wilson: Driven By Sacrifice
One year ago, Stefan Wilson gave up his seat in the Indianapolis 500 to Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso. The media attention focused heavily on Alonso and his attempt to win the Triple Crown of Motorsport, having won the Grand Prix of Monaco and now needing the Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of LeMans. However, little attention was given to the man that made it all possible for Alonso to be at Indy.
“I felt like I had learned a lot in 2016, and I was ready to put things into action in 2017, but circumstances happened, and now after one year off, it makes things a little more difficult.”
Wilson makes his return to the Indianapolis 500 with defending champions Andretti Autosport. It’s his first IndyCar race since 2016, and his first professional race of the year.
Finding a ride in IndyCar is not an easy task. Anyone in the IndyCar paddock will explain just how difficult it is to find enough funding to run one race, let alone the whole season. Some drivers work an entire year to put together enough sponsorship money to just race Indy. Doing so to race any other race adds to the difficulty.
For Wilson, this is currently his only race of his year. He has sponsorship from Driven2Save Lives where he promotes organ donation. His older brother Justin was fatally injured in an IndyCar race at Pocono in 2015, but Justin being an organ donor ended up saving the lives of five people.
“I wish I could say I had some other prospects for later this year or even the 500 next year,” sighed Wilson, having to come to terms with Sunday being likely the last time he races this year. “It’s been very concerning, but it helps me appreciate the 500 even more.”
Wilson knows how much the 500 means. He’s cherishing every moment he has at these hallowed grounds. As a race car driver, taking any opportunity to race at Indy is never something that can be taken for granted.
“This could be the last time I run Indy.”
No driver wants to retire before they’re ready. Wilson, now 28, is nowhere near retirement age. With drivers like Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan racing in their 40’s, Wilson still has a lot of racing left to do in his time. Wilson should be in the prime of his racing career, but instead, will enter Memorial Day with his racing future in limbo.
Wilson’s lack of confidence in his racing future hasn’t affected his confidence for Sunday. Racing for Andretti Autosport, he has plenty of experience from which to learn, including 2014 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Wilson praised his teammates and engineers. He said he feels as though he’s learned more this year than he did in 2016. Having a year of experience under his belt will certainly be beneficial for Wilson. In his previous start, he finished 28th after retiring early due to an electrical problem. That means his goals for race day are simple. Finish the race and stay on the lead lap.
“I just hope that I can leave here on Sunday night with my head held high. Whether I’m able to come back next year or not, at least I’ll be able to say I did my best and gave it my all.”
Racing for his career, his brother Justin, and the campaign to be an organ donor, Stefan Wilson will roll off 23rd on Sunday. His future is uncertain, but he is determined to not make this his last 500.