Long-awaited dream for Stefan Wilson’s Indy 500 debut to come true

Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS – For Stefan Wilson, his long-awaited Indianapolis 500 debut is as much a comeback story of his own as it is an emotional tribute to his brother and an opportunity to raise funds and awareness for a good cause.

Wilson, 26, drives the No. 25 Driven2SaveLives-KVRT Chevrolet in the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, and will roll off 30th on Sunday.

Emotions run high about his opportunity though, first.

The number 25 is the same as the late Justin Wilson carried in 2015, then driving for Andretti Autosport.

The Driven2SaveLives initiative is present to raise both awareness and add donors – with a goal of 2,500 of them – to register their decision to donate. Wilson launched the initiative in partnership with the Indiana Donor Network.

Justin Wilson’s impact after he lost his life last August at Pocono lived on with the fact he was a donor, and thus saved five lives.

“It’s carrying on Justin’s legacy,” Stefan Wilson told NBC Sports. “That day back in August, it was like, there were a lot of things to feel sad about and that wasn’t one of them. That was sort of a positive you could take away. His act and how that was going to save a lot of people. It was pretty incredible.

“The weeks after that, so many people reached out to say, ‘I became an organ donor because of what Justin did’ or, ‘my family member is still here because of someone else’s selfless gift of life,’ and it just struck me as how incredible that was and the potential of his act to save not just five lives, but more lives in the future.”

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

Interestingly, the Indiana Donor Network wasn’t the original primary partner intended for the effort. Wilson – who’d been working on getting in the 100th Indianapolis 500 anyway prior to the events of last August – had also been working on a #ThinkSolar campaign.

Inovateus Solar is on the car came on board and they are looking to do something more in the future, so hopefully that can progress as a good relationship,” Wilson said.

“Think Solar is still an initiative that is still out there; it’s not gone away by any means, but at the end of the day we’ve gave ourselves quite a short runway to get that off the ground. Even though we were planning it a lot last year, with everything happening in August, it kind of set us back two or three months, just figuring out what was going on.

“It took a little time to let the dust settle. But by that point it was past the point where people are setting budgets for these things. That’s still something that’s going on, and we’ll continue to work on it for 2017 even.

“The Indiana Donor Network reached out and Gap Guard was already committed to helping me. The stars aligned. The Indiana Donor Network’s idea of this kind of campaign was really easy to support. It was honoring Justin. I get to talk about Justin.”

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

Talking about Justin – from a racing standpoint – is something Stefan doesn’t mind doing. Of course for this race, Wilson’s also wearing a special tribute helmet as designed by Mike Corby, Justin’s helmet designer, that has his traditional look on one side and Justin’s on the other.

In preparing for the race this year, Stefan re-watched the 2013 race – a race Justin pulled a typical rabbit out of his rear end where he made such an incredible run in a car that otherwise had no business being as high as it was. Such was his trademark.

“I was watching from his pit stand at the time, and I remember he had a bad stint where something happened where they went the wrong way with the setup or something,” Stefan reflected.

“The car was wicked loose on him, so he went all the way to the back came in on the next round of pit stops, they fixed it, he went back out and it was good. He came through the field from way back all the way forward on merit. It wasn’t like he did it on a pit stop strategy or anything.

Justin's P5 in 2013 Indy 500 was an incredible drive. Photo: IndyCar
Justin’s P5 in 2013 Indy 500 was an incredible drive. Photo: IndyCar

“The last pit stop I remember seeing him leave the pits and the field was coming down the front stretch and the field is on the outside of him through one and two and he merges on the backstretch into P6 or something and I think ‘how did you do that?!? How did you maintain speed with the leaders on the apron through turn two?’

“And he was like, ‘as soon as I left my pit box I was flat the entire way.’ It was pretty sketchy on the apron. He was like, ‘screw it, it’s the Indy 500 and there is only 20 laps to go.’

“He takes that Dale Coyne car and legitimately finishes fifth. He was quicker than (Dario) Franchitti, (Scott) Dixon, and all of the other top Honda cars in the Dale Coyne car. No one really recognized what he did!”

Wilson’s KV Racing Technology Chevrolet hasn’t been the best handling wise this week. He’s with a younger but still recently experienced engineer in Zack Eakin, formerly of the Nissan LMP1 program, in the third KVRT entry alongside the team’s full-season driver, Sebastien Bourdais of KVSH Racing, and Matthew Brabham in the PIRTEK Team Murray entry.

Getting re-acclimated to IndyCar after his three-year absence – and a five-year absence since his last full season of 2011 in Indy Lights – was also a bit of a learning process. Going through the Rookie Orientation Program naturally took time as he built back up to speed.

“The ROP was really tricky actually because you it’s the first time dealing with all the electronics on the dash, so you’re trying to figure out a lot,” Wilson explained. “I’ve reviewed the manual and such, but the first time at speed and there’s a lot of information, so you’re trying to look at the dash and see what speed you’re doing right now and you know that speed window that you’ve got to be in.

“You’re trying to figure out if I’m doing 210 down the backstretch, and you scrub down to like 200 in the corners that should give me a good average of around 205 and you’re trying to do math constantly around the track to figure out what your average speed is going to be so that was probably the trickiest part because you have to hold back and lift off in places where you normally wouldn’t lift off. It was good to do those laps though and build up to it nice and slow and have that as a guideline.

“It was nice to get through those two phases. On the third phase you can just let loose and go for it. I was pleased with how quickly I was able to progress. In the third phase, in the first two laps I was flat all the way around. We’re pretty heavy on downforce right now and that was a pretty good day yesterday for running. Other than the head wind down the frontstretch, which made it tricky off four a few times, but nothing too bad.”

The question of whether this Wilson would ever get this chance did linger. It frustrated and at times seemed an unattainable goal.

But it’s real, even despite a learning process probably bigger than what he could have imagined.

“Last year I didn’t drive a single car. There were times when I’ve been like, ‘What am I doing here? Am I past my welcome? Am I going to get a shot?” he pondered.

“Am I ever going to get this shot, or should I be doing something else with my life?’

“I didn’t want that to be the case, but when you’ve been sitting on the sidelines for as long as I’ve been it’s easy to get those questions in your mind.

“It’s good to get this opportunity and see.”

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston: Eli Tomac retakes 450 lead, Hunter Lawrence tops 250s

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After his Anaheim 2 crash, Eli Tomac was surprised he was not injured, but despite getting knocked down momentarily, he picked himself up, rode to last week’s win and reascended to the top of the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. This is the third time in three weeks Tomac has topped the rankings.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jason Anderson has back-to-back podiums to his credit and sits second in the Power Rankings. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Last week, Tomac finished second in his heat before winning the Main – and that translated to near-perfect points in the Power Rankings, which award 100 for a win in the feature and 90 for a heat victory. Tomac’s average was marred by the Houston accident when he finished 13th in that heat before settling just outside the top five in overall standings. Racing is about bouncing back and last year’s Supercross and Motocross champion Tomac did just that as he chases a third consecutive title.

Jason Anderson earned his second consecutive podium finish with a third at Houston. He momentarily rolled past Aaron Plessinger into second during a restart following an accident involving Dylan Ferrandis and held that position for four trips around the track until he was tracked down by Chase Sexton. Afterward Anderson faded and finished 12 seconds off the pace, but along with a heat win, he easily leapfrogged Ken Roczen and Cooper Webb, who struggled in the fourth race of the season.

MORE: Eli Tomac rebounds from Anaheim 2 crash with Houston win

Webb held his position by passing Roczen in NBC’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. Webb has been solid in 2023 with a worst moto result of seventh in the first Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2, but in order to be considered a solid challenger to Tomac he needs to win either a heat or main this week in Tampa.

Roczen was involved in the incident that sidelined Ferrandis in Houston. Racing for eighth at the time, his bike may have sustained some damage when Ferrandis landed on his back tire, but he was not overly impressive in his heat either with a fifth-place finish. That was enough to drop him three positions in the standings, but he still has Tomac in sight.

After his disappointing heat in San Diego when he crashed and sustained enough damage to place him last, Sexton has roared back. He won the overall in Anaheim 2’s Triple Crown format and narrowed the points’ gap slightly on Tomac. Last week he yarded the field in his heat race and won by a wide margin. A modest start in the Main kept him from getting to Tomac’s back wheel early in the Houston round, and he lost a little ground in the championship.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Rider Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1 Eli Tomac
[3 Main; 3 Heats Wins]
85.20 2 1
2 Jason Anderson
[2 Heat Wins]
82.60 4 2
3 Cooper Webb 82.10 3 0
4 Ken Roczen 81.70 1 -3
5 Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat Wins]
80.70 6 1
6 Dylan Ferrandis 71.60 5 -1
7 Aaron Plessinger 71.30 8 1
8 Justin Barcia 70.10 7 -1
9 Justin Cooper 68.00 NA
10 Adam Cianciarulo 67.40 9 -1
11 Joey Savatgy 61.20 10 -1
12 Marvin Musquin 61.00 10 -2
13 Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat Win]
58.75 11 -2
14 Christian Craig 57.20 13 -1
15 Colt Nichols 56.50 14 -1
16 Dean Wilson 49.30 15 -1
17 Justin Hill 39.67 18 1
18 Shane McElrath 36.33 22 4
19 Brandon Scharer 34.00 21 2
20 Logan Karnow 33.33 19 -1

Supercross 450 Points


The 250 East division debuted in Houston and with only one race – and therefore no chance yet to stumble – three of their riders jumped to the top of the chart.

Hunter Lawrence had a perfect week with wins in both his main and heat. It wasn’t without drama, however, as he was forced to jump wide early in the feature to avoid contact with Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut. Without a former 250 champion in the field, it is guaranteed someone new will grace the top of the box at Salt Lake City after the season-ender and it looks like it’s going to be Lawrence’s to lose.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jordon Smith’s last podium before Houston came four years ago in Detroit. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

It was more than four years ago that Jordon Smith scored his last Supercross podium in Detroit. Despite finishing second that afternoon, he was battling a wrist injury that eventually sidelined him. More injuries have followed, but Smith was a favorite to win the title in 2019 and he’s shown how well he can ride when he’s healthy.

Debuting third in the Houston SuperMotocross Power Rankings, Max Anstie moved from the 450 class last year to 250s in 2023 and the change has gone better than he anticipated. Finishing second in both his heat and main, Anstie was edged by Smith because he finished second behind that rider in their heat. That is Anstie’s first top-10 since finishing sixth at Southwick, Massachusetts last year on his 450. In that race, he scored fifth-place results in both motos.

Supercross 250 Points

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his graduation into the 250 class was well deserved and he landed fourth in his division and fifth overall in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings. In his first professional Supercross race, he finished fourth in his heat. In a field with twice the talent, he finished fourth again in the main. At Houston, he balanced aggression with patience. Now that he has a taste of that success, everyone will be watching him closely at Tampa to see if he can continue tiptoeing on the line.

Michael Mosiman, Jeremy Martin, and Vialle are tied for fifth in the 250 East division and seventh overall.

Vialle is the most notable of these three because he challenged for a podium position during the Main before making a mistake and falling in a turn. Significantly, this was not only his 250 debut, but his first time in Supercross. As with Deegan, he has generated a lot of attention for the coming weeks.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Rider Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1 Hunter Lawrence – E
[1 Main; 1 Heat Win]
95.00 NA
2 Jordon Smith – E
[1 Heat Win]
90.50 NA
2 Max Anstie – E 90.50 NA
4 Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat Wins]
89.13 1 -3
5 Haiden Deegan – E 81.50 NA
6 Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 2 -4
7 Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 3 -4
7 Michael Mosiman – E 77.00 NA
7 Jeremy Martin – E 77.00 NA
7 Tom Vialle – E 77.00 NA
11 Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat Win]
76.75 4 -7
12 Chance Hymas – E 74.50 -12
13 Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main Win]
73.75 5 -8
14 RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat Wins]
70.00 6 -8
15 Max Vohland – W 69.29 7 -8
16 Cullin Park – E 66.00 NA
17 Chris Blose – E 65.50 NA
18 Derek Kelley – W 63.75 8 -10
19 Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 9 -10
20 Pierce Brown – W 61.29 10 -10

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage