Justin Wilson dies at age 37

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Justin Wilson, of Sheffield, England, has died at age 37 following injuries sustained in an accident Sunday at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.

Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company, Hulman &. Co., announced the news in a Monday night press conference at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Wilson had been in a coma since Sunday night.

“On behalf of the Wilson family, it’s with profound sadness that we announce that Justin has died this evening at Lehigh Valley Health Network Hospital in Allentown, Pa., as a result of the head injury he suffered yesterday at the Pocono Raceway,” Miles said.

“He passed away in the company of his family, his brother, Stefan,  his loving wife, wonderful wife Julia and his parents Keith and Lynne.

“Justin’s elite ability to drive a race car was matched by his unwavering kindness and character and humility, which made him one of the most respected members of the paddock. As we know, the racing  industry is one big family and our focus now is rallying around Justin’s family to ensure they get the support they need during this difficult time.

“Anyone who follows our sport knows Justin Wilson is one of the most respected, highly regarded and loved people in the entire paddock. He will be missed.”

A statement from the Wilson family reads as follows:

With deep sadness, the parents of Justin Wilson, Keith and Lynne, his wife Julia, and his brother Stefan share the news that Justin passed away today after succumbing to injuries suffered during the Verizon IndyCar event at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, August 23.

Justin was a loving father and devoted husband, as well as a highly competitive racing driver who was respected by his peers.

The family would like to thank the staff at the Lehigh Valley Health Network Cedar Crest Hospital, Pocono Raceway, Andretti Autosport, and the Verizon IndyCar Series as well as the entire racing community for the amazing outpouring of support from fans around the world.

The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Wilson Children’s Fund care of INDYCAR.

Wilson Children’s Fund
C/O INDYCAR
4551 West 16th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46222

Andretti Autosport has also released the following statement:

We are deeply saddened by the passing of Justin Wilson. He was a tremendous racer, a valuable member of the team and respected representative to our sport. While Justin was only part of the Andretti lineup for a short time, it only took a second for him to forever become part of the Andretti family. His life and racing career is a story of class and passion surpassed by none. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Wilson family and fans worldwide.

Godspeed, JW.

A statement from an NBC Sports spokesperson reads, “We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Justin Wilson, and offer our most sincere condolences to his family and his teammates at Andretti Autosport.”

Wilson was a fixture on the racing circuit for many years.

In 173 starts in Champ Car and the Verizon IndyCar Series from 2004 through 2015, Wilson won seven races and also finished second in the Champ Car championship twice.

The year before that, in 2003, Wilson raced in Formula One with the Minardi and Jaguar teams, scoring a single World Championship point with eighth place for Jaguar at the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis.

Wilson made it into F1 by way of selling shares to investors, who would then invest in Wilson’s career.

Once he arrived in North America, Wilson instantly endeared himself to the paddock, known as a gentle giant at 6-foot-4. He was an excellent driver too, with the paddock always regarding his skills as being far better than the equipment he raced in. He delivered Dale Coyne his first two wins in the IndyCar Series, with wins at Watkins Glen in 2009 and Texas Motor Speedway in 2012. The Texas win was Wilson’s seventh of his career, first on an oval, and tragically, now, the last of his career.

Wilson had signed with Andretti Autosport for selected races in 2015, the month of May, which then expanded to the final five races of the season starting at Milwaukee in July.

He finished second at Mid-Ohio to former teammate Graham Rahal, which was his 27th and final podium finish in North American open-wheel racing.

On Sunday at Pocono, Wilson was struck in the head by an errant nosecone, which came loose from Sage Karam’s car after Karam contacted the Turn 1 wall. Wilson’s car then careened into the inside retaining wall.

Wilson is survived by his wife Julia and their two daughters.

IndyCar: Despite their youth, O’Ward and Herta are ready for the big leagues

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That Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta both will be in the IndyCar Series in 2019 is only fitting.

They were the class of the 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires field – O’Ward won eight races, with Herta winning four – and dueled each other all the way up to the season-ending weekend at Portland International Raceway, where O’Ward clinched the Indy Lights championship.

And earlier today, both got rewarded with the chance of a lifetime as drivers in a revamped, and renamed, Harding Steinbrenner Racing outfit, featuring a partnership with George Michael Steinbrenner IV and Mike Harding.

Perhaps it’s surprising to some that two drivers who are so young – O’Ward is 19 and Herta only 18 – have such an opportunity at their doorstep. Yet, despite their youth, each has demonstrated an enormous amount of maturity and are ready to tackle the big time.

Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta were the class of the Indy Lights field in 2018. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Let’s start with O’Ward. The 2018 numbers for the Indy Lights champion speak for themselves; eight wins and 12 podiums are astounding numbers no matter how you slice them. However, the story of O’Ward’s season goes deeper than that. Things could’ve come unraveled after Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg – he ran off course after overshooting Turn 4, and with a commanding lead at that, and finished seventh. However, he came back to sweep the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park.

Things could’ve come unraveled again in the middle of the season when Colton Herta won four races in a row to take the points lead. However, from Iowa Speedway to the end of the year, O’Ward’s finishes went as follows: 1,1, 2, 1, 1, 3, 1, 1.

In short, he always managed to rebound when challenged and re-assert his dominance.

Patricio O’Ward won eight times in 2018. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

An equally impressive on-track performance came outside of his Indy Lights campaign. In the Rolex 24 at Daytona, in which he drove the No. 38 Oreca 07 Gibson for Performance Tech Motorsports, O’Ward qualified an astounding fourth … ahead of DPi drivers like Dane Cameron (Acura Team Penske), Felipe Nasr (Action Express), and Tristan Vautier (Spirit of Daytona Racing). He also out-qualified fellow LMP2 drivers like Colin Braun (CORE autosport) and Stephen Simpson (JDC-Miller Motorsports).

Oh, O’Ward also out-qualified some guy named Fernando Alonso, who was piloting a Liger JSP217 for United Autosports.

It was an early signal that O’Ward meant business in 2018. It also comes off a 2017 season that saw him show his mettle in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, as he helped Performance Tech clinch a Prototype Challenge title and acclimated himself well to long-distance races. In other words, he’s already had a taste of the big leagues, and knows how to conduct himself accordingly.

And with IndyCar potentially looking at a return to Mexico in the near future, having a Mexican driver on the grid – and a budding young star at that – is an enormous boon and would make any potential event in Mexico an surefire homerun.

Of course, not to be forgotten is Herta. The son of 1993 Indy Lights champion and former IndyCar race winner Bryan Herta, 18-year-old Colton burst onto the scene in March of 2017 on the streets of St. Petersburg, his debut weekend in Indy Lights – he finished second in Race 1, charging up from fifth on the grid to do so, before leading every lap of Race 2 from the pole to take the win.

The then-16-year-old Colton had announced his presence as a force to be reckoned with, though keen observers would have seen that coming. He won four races competing in the Euroformula Open Championship in 2016, and with such success in the cutthroat world that is the European racing scene, Colton certainly possessed the pedigree to become a superstar and the hype-train was off and running, with several predicting he might run away with the 2017 Indy Lights title.

However, maybe the best thing that could have happened to the young Herta was not winning the Indy Lights crown last year. Despite possessing an incredible amount of raw talent, Colton remained unpolished, evidenced by on-track incidents that blighted his 2017 season, especially in the first half – he had five finishes of 10th or worse, featuring a pair of crashes, that essentially cancelled out two wins and a second-place effort.

Things got better in the second half, though he still was rough around the edges – he threw away a win on the streets of Toronto after contacting the wall while leading.

As a result, he ended the season third in the championship. Despite demonstrating the talent to be an IndyCar driver, he needed just a little more seasoning.

His performance in 2018 was nothing short of remarkable, even if he ultimately came up short of the championship. Colton rebounded from a crash in Race 1 at St. Petersburg to win four races in a row, as previously described. And, three of them came at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, two on the IMS Road Course and one in the Freedom 100.

Colton Herta won three times at the Indianapolis Motorsport in 2018, including the Freedom 100. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

In other words, Colton is not afraid of the big stage, and he embraces the chance to compete at the highest level.

Rest assured, while they are young, O’Ward and Herta are mature beyond their years. The INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma was more evidence of that. O’Ward’s story has been told in detail, and qualifying fifth and finishing ninth is genuinely remarkable.

Herta’s result won’t garner the same attention – he started 19th and finished 20th – but he accomplished the most important goal of the weekend: he ran all 85 laps and finished his debut race without incident, gaining a world of experience in the process.

They’ve even drawn praise of Al Unser Jr., who has previously worked with the team as a driver coach and will continue in that role next year.

“Really, I’m looking at two of the brightest stars in racing to come along for a long time,” Unser Jr. asserted. “Working with them out at Sonoma, I was with them when Colton ran his first test at Portland, I was with Pato when he ran his first test at Sonoma. These kids, they’re smart, they’re great drivers. They go out there and they use their heads. That’s 90% of it right there.”

There will be growing pains with O’Ward and Herta, as there always are with young guns. However, rest assured, IndyCar has a pair of budding young stars in the two of them, and they’ll be swinging for the fences in 2019.

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