The number of English gentle giants in the IndyCar paddock doubled in 2009 from one to two.
That was the year Stefan Wilson made the move over from Sheffield to the United States, able to join his brother Justin on the traveling circus that is North American open-wheel racing.
At the time, Stefan Wilson made his first starts with Walker Racing in a very deep, 20-plus-car Indy Lights field. Stefan definitely shone in a handful of starts, and began to make his own mark on the paddock.
But being brother Stefan took precedence over driver Stefan when it came to his favorite racing memory of Justin, when Justin and Dale Coyne Racing played David to Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Goliaths, and flat beat them on outright performance at Watkins Glen.
It marked the first time Stefan had been able to see one of Justin’s race wins in North America, and it stands as Stefan’s favorite racing moment of his older brother.
“Truly my favorite moment was 2009 at Watkins Glen,” Stefan Wilson told MotorSportsTalk during an informal media availability session Sunday at Sonoma.
“It was my first year in the States. My first win I’d got to be there and witness. It was incredible, the team atmosphere at Dale Coyne Racing, it was like a tight-knit family.
“Him and Bill (Pappas, Justin Wilson’s engineer)… I’ve shared some memories with Bill this weekend. They had a great connection. That’s what made him so effective.
“Afterwards, everyone on the team got together at Seneca Lodge, and put Justin’s wreath on the wall there. It was the first time a winning driver had done that in a number of years. That was so special.”
That win was a special one, and so too was Texas in 2012 – Justin Wilson’s final win – when Stefan memorably tweeted about having to bring back cowboy boots from victory lane on the flight back to Indianapolis.
The moment that stands out in recent years, of course, was when Coyne provided the opportunity for the two brothers to be teammates at the 2013 Grand Prix of Baltimore. It was Stefan Wilson’s debut, and is thus far his only career IndyCar start.
It had been an interesting year for Coyne, similar to this year with a rotating driver lineup in the No. 18 car.
Stefan Wilson was the fifth different driver in the No. 18 car that season, following Ana Beatriz, Mike Conway, Pippa Mann and James Davison. Japanese driver Ryo Hirakawa had also tested, with an eye towards debuting late in the season.
Yet it was Stefan, who hadn’t tested since Barber in March, who got the call for Baltimore, in a memorable white-and-green Nirvana Tea livery.
It was a typically last-minute call from Coyne – Baltimore was only a week after Sonoma – so Stefan first showed up wearing his old Indy Lights firesuit from 2011, when he raced for Andretti Autosport and won his first two races. His new suit arrived later in the weekend.
The legend of the “bromates” was born that weekend, with a memorable press conference.
Where Stefan Wilson was so surprised was in getting to work alongside his brother and see first-hand what a font of knowledge he was. Justin was determined to make sure his younger brother learned as much as he could that weekend, and it showed with Stefan getting progressively faster with every successive session before he finished the race 16th. In typical “BadAss” form, Justin finished fourth that day.
“I want to say Baltimore (was my favorite), but that’s selfish reasons really,” Stefan Wilson told me in the Sonoma availability.
“It was so amazing to get that opportunity to race with him. That was a childhood dream of mine. I never thought I’d be his teammate. So that was pretty special.
“For me, that was pretty amazing because over the years I’d had so many people who’d been his teammates come up to me and be like, ‘I don’t know how I would have done it, or made that step… it wouldn’t have been that easy if it wasn’t for Justin.’
“I can’t believe how open he was, how much he tried to help me. I was always like, ‘Well, they’re saying nice things.’ Then I got to be his teammate. He was a genius in the engineering room! But at the same time he was so helpful, so open book. He’d tell you anything.
“He would not be afraid, or worried about self-confidence. He’d share everything with you, and he wasn’t afraid… or concerned others would do better.”
What Stefan Wilson has done in the last week is emulate his older brother to the maximum.
He has been nothing short of graceful, strong, and a rock of faith as he tries to cope with the loss of his older brother and move forward.