WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — It’s not often that a race car driver has the opportunity to exclaim, “It was a perfect day for me.”
A year of reflection and Justin Wilson reiterates his Watkins Glen Int’l victory lane statement. Wilson led a race-high 49 (of 60) laps, including the final 15, and went on to give Dale Coyne Racing its first IZOD IndyCar Series victory.
“It was just a great day to go out there and be quick,” said Wilson, who will attempt to defend his title in the Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen July 4. “The car felt great. Everything went right — apart from we couldn’t get a full tank of fuel.
“We could only get 19 gallons in the car every pit stop so that meant we were saving fuel like crazy the whole day until finally there was a yellow with 10 laps to go. That allowed us to save enough fuel so I could run flat out to the end. That’s why I managed to pull away from the rest of the field (to a four-second victory over Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe). That’s what I was working with the whole time, but it worked for us as well.”
Wilson won on the Belle Isle street circuit in 2008 with Newman/Haas Racing in his first IZOD IndyCar Series season, but it wasn’t as fulfilling as his victory at Watkins Glen.
“(The Glen) was more rewarding because I was able to overtake on track and be able to control the field as well,” said Wilson, noting that there were eight lead changes among six drivers. “At Belle Isle, I got alongside Helio (Castroneves) before I got squeezed in toward the wall and had to back out and that’s when (Race Control) deemed that to be blocking. At Watkins Glen, Ryan left me a little bit of road and I was able to complete the pass.”
Wilson said he enjoys the 3.4-mile, 11-turn Watkins Glen course that has played host to Formula One and other racing divisions for more than 50 years — mainly because it’s related to courses he competed on in Europe. Off-season facility modifications (replacing the tire barriers in turn 11and the inner loops with the SAFER barrier and paving some runoffs) are welcome by drivers.
“I think it’s one of the best tracks in the world,” he said. “Having won there last year I’m going to say that, but it’s just a great, fun track. There are a lot of fast corners and it hasn’t lost any of its character with the safety improvements. That’s key. When you come out of those fifth- and fourth-gear corners, you know when you’ve got it right. It’s like, ‘That feels good.’”
Wilson will attempt to regain that feeling in the No. 22 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry. Wilson had three top 10s, including a pair of runner-up finishes, in the four early season road/street course races and is eighth in the standings. The Glen race weekend kicks off a five-race road/street course swing that is likely to impact the championship order.
“I’m focused on this year, hoping we can go back there and be as competitive,” said Wilson. “It’s a different team, but I want to get back that same level of competition. Hopefully we can work it all out and repeat.”