IndyCar’s “nearly” man, Justin Wilson, set to overachieve once more

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Justin Wilson remains IndyCar’s “nearly” man heading into 2014. “Nearly” everyone acknowledges he is a true top-five talent, and top-two or three guy in terms of character.

Yet he’s “nearly” the best driver. He’s “nearly” in victory lane. He’s “nearly” with the best team.

So goes the story again for 2014. Despite Team Penske adding a car for Juan Pablo Montoya, and Chip Ganassi Racing needing to fill two new spots but going with Tony Kanaan and Ryan Briscoe, once again Wilson has “nearly” missed out on a top drive as his contract option was picked up for one more year by Dale Coyne Racing.

Once Champ Car was folded into IndyCar in 2008, Wilson’s never had the true top-flight ride his talent deserves. He’s overachieved with Newman/Haas/Lanigan, Coyne, and Dreyer & Reinbold, but in 2013 wasn’t able to crack victory lane.

As 2014 beckons, he’s “nearly” with the same group of people. Engineer Bill Pappas departs, with fellow veteran Michael Cannon entering his stead.

But on the bright side, the lanky Englishman says the Coyne team has made “nearly” all the improvements over the winter to be considered a top-flight organization on merit, rather than by Wilson and crew overachieving.

“We’re generally just working away on things, trying to get used to the new personnel,” Wilson said at IndyCar media day in Orlando. “We’ve had a lot of changes at Dale Coyne Racing. I’m now working with Michael Cannon, my new race engineer. He’s got a lot of experience, and that’s great.”

Also great has been Wilson’s frequency of seat time in the new year, beyond his No. 19 Boy Scouts of America/Sonny’s BBQ Honda for DCR. That’s important considering where he was in October.

Wilson suffered a fractured pelvis and pulmonary contusion at the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, which was his second major injury in three years. He also sustained a compression fracture to his T-5 vertebra to his back in 2011 at Mid-Ohio.

But through it, Wilson recovered quickly, and was back in a car by January. He’s alternated between the IndyCar and Michael Shank Racing’s Ford EcoBoost Riley, for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship’s opening rounds at Daytona and Sebring.

As Wilson’s gained track time, he feels optimistic that the team can improve on its sixth place in the championship in 2013.

“We didn’t expect that at the start of the year. Obviously now this year we want to build on it,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that have got to happen.  We have to make sure we don’t make any mistakes.  Trying to get the most out of the car in qualifying, trying to get the car to work over a full stint in the race, that’s just part of it.

Wilson scored four podium finishes, with a best of second at Sonoma. He’s planning a return to victory lane in 2014, to build on his two prior wins (Watkins Glen 2009, Texas 2012) with Coyne.

“It’s easy to go down a path and get trapped and lost. That’s our focus,” he said. “Hopefully we can build on that and win races. That was the one thing last year, we came close to winning a couple races. There were a few races that something happened and I thought, We should have won that one. We didn’t. Want to change that around this year and at least win one, if not multiple.”

Considering Wilson, Cannon and the Coyne team have nearly 60-plus years of combined open-wheel experience between them, they should punch above their weight once more.

They don’t want another year of “nearly” missing out on wins and a potential top-five championship finish.

Williams confirms Kubica and Sirotkin for Abu Dhabi F1 test

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Williams has confirmed that Robert Kubica will enjoy his third Formula 1 test outing with the team at the end-of-season running in Abu Dhabi next week as rumors grow regarding a possible race seat for 2018.

Almost seven years after his last F1 start, Kubica’s remarkable return from severe injuries sustained in a rally accident saw him enjoy two private tests with Renault before completing running with the team in a 2017-spec car in Hungary over the summer.

Reservations over Kubica’s capabilities prompted Renault to pass on giving him a seat, instead opting to hire Carlos Sainz Jr. for next year, only for Williams to become an alternative for the Pole.

Kubica tested a 2014-spec Williams at both Silverstone and the Hungaroring in recent months, and will now sample a 2017 car when he tests at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Kubica will share track time with regular Williams racer Lance Stroll and Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin, who has worked with Renault over the past two years but also missed out on a 2018 seat.

“Williams Martini Racing is pleased to confirm it will run Robert Kubica and Sergey Sirotkin for the Abu Dhabi Pirelli tire test, alongside current race driver Lance Stroll,” a statement from the team reads.

“The Pirelli tire test will take place over two days at the Yas Marina circuit during the week following the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“On day one Robert Kubica will drive the FW40 in the morning session, before Lance Stroll takes over in the afternoon.

“On day two Sergey Sirotkin will drive in the morning and afternoon sessions before handing over to Robert in the late afternoon.

“The test is aimed at evaluating 2018 candidate tires on behalf of the Formula 1 tire supplier Pirelli.

“Williams is excited to have this opportunity to assess the new tyres across such an interesting range of drivers: Lance, as confirmed race driver for 2018, Robert with his huge experience, and Sergey as a very promising young talent in Formula 1.”

Williams denied earlier this week it has signed Kubica to partner Stroll for 2018, but indications are the deal looks very likely to go ahead, subject to the relevant paperwork and contracts being finalized.