Understated Determination – Justin Wilson

Sitting down with Justin Wilson you quickly notice a few things. The traditional proper English manners are evident in the way he conducts himself. He is also a relaxed individual who will give you his undivided attention no matter what is happening around him.

While talking with the Northampton resident you start to get a feeling of what the man is about. He has definite goals and an understated determination to reach his goals. Unlike other sports where athletes will tell you how great they are, or how many points they are going to score, Justin Wilson focuses on what he wants to achieve and lets his results speak for them self.

Mecca of Speed: For fans that are new to Champ Car or racing in general, when did you get an interest in motorsports, and how did you get started?

Justin Wilson: I got the interest from my father; he raced before I was born and was a big fan of motorsports. When I was eight years old he brought me along to a kart race and asked if I wanted to have a go, to which I said yes. Then we went out and bought a kart and went kart racing. Straight away I knew this is what I wanted to do.

Mecca of Speed: After racing karts, was it a matter of climbing the ladder through series in Europe?

Justin Wilson: Yeah, that is exactly what happened. I started out in a classic Formula Vauxhall Junior and then progressed into Formula Vauxhall, won the Formula Palmer Audi championship, then the Formula 3000 championship and then went into Formula One.

I did one season in Formula One and then moved into Champ Car.

Mecca of Speed: You split your season in Formula One between Minardi and Jaguar.

Justin Wilson: That is correct.

Mecca of Speed: Where did the idea come from to sell stock in yourself to fund your racing career? Can you give us a basic explanation on how it works?

Justin Wilson: The idea came from my manager and my Father. We were trying to think of ideas on how to help finance my move into Formula One. All the drivers that make their way into Formula One start with some kind of backer, sponsor or personal money. I didn’t have any of that so I sold shares in myself to try and pay for a ride in Formula One.

I have approximately 930 investors who got involved and bought shares. They are still involved today.

Mecca of Speed: Will they be retiring on their share in Justin Wilson?

Justin Wilson: It depends on how much they put in (laughs). The plan is to pay them back over the new few years. It’s going to be slower to pay them back then what we originally thought, but hopefully in the next few years they will start to see a return.

Mecca of Speed: While you were in Europe, how did you get the offer to come to Champ Car and drive for Mi-Jack Conquest Racing?

Justin Wilson: I had some friends at Conquest Racing, and that is how I joined the team. I really enjoyed driving in Champ Car with them, it was good fun. During that season I caught the attention of Carl Russo. He contacted my at the end of the season and asked if I would come do a test for RuSPORT. From my performance in that test I got the offer to drive for RuSPORT.

Mecca of Speed: RuSPORT is a fairly young team compared to the other teams in Champ Car. How would you describe the atmosphere at RuSPORT?

Justin Wilson: It’s good fun, a good team. Everyone works quick and hard. Everyone wants to win, that’s the important thing. It’s hard to explain the atmosphere; it’s just a good team. To be here and understand that is what makes it work.

Mecca of Speed: Last month (August) you were here (Road America) for the open test and ran in the morning before Cristiano da Matta’s accident. Did you learn anything in that limited time and has the track changed much with the current cooler temperatures?

Justin Wilson: Not much, and we don’t know. We had problems obviously with Cristiano’s accident. When he had his accident just after lunchtime on the first day we pulled out of the test, so we did very little running. We didn’t have a chance to learn a lot.

It’s hard to compare considering the circumstance we were in. Thankfully Cristiano is doing a lot better and he flew home yesterday.

Mecca of Speed: You are a very cool and controlled driver not prone to making mistakes based on emotion. During a race when do you know it’s time to tap into that emotion to make an aggressive more or attempt a pass?

Justin Wilson: It is usually a number of things. You learn when to make a move over your years racing. I’ve been driving for 20 years, and I’ve learned when you make a maneuver, you have to commit to it. If it’s only a halfhearted attempt it’s not going to happen. You are either going to crash with a guy or not pull it off. It’s better to wait for the right time to make a move then to try and force something at the wrong time.

It’s something like a pattern, something you learn. Certain things you look for and I’m not sure if I can say what they are. It can be if you have a run on a guy in a turn, or which side you are going to pass him on when he is going to turn in. It’s all part of an equation and in time it becomes instinct.

Mecca of Speed: There are six rookies in Champ Car this season. What is the most important thing you learned during your rookie Champ Car season that has helped you to become a race winner and a championship contender?

Justin Wilson: To relax. When you are working here as a rookie you are trying to impress. You can make mistakes by trying too hard. That’s the hardest thing. When you make it into your second season you know that you are here and you feel a little more at home and comfortable with your surroundings. Then you can concentrate more on winning and not making mistakes. It’s hard to explain what the details are, but in simple terms you are more comfortable in your surroundings.

Mecca of Speed: Unlike several open wheel drivers, you are rather tall. What are some of things the team does to make you more comfortable in the car?

Justin Wilson: Obviously, it’s tight but I am used to that. We move the pedals as far forward as they will go, the steering wheel is as high and as far back as it will go and then making the seat as thin as possible. There is a minimum thickness for the seat, so we make it to that regulation. It’s a custom molded seat. You sit in the cockpit and the bag is behind you which is full of little beads. You squish the beads into position, suck out the air, step out and you then have the shape of the seat.

It’s a lot of practice and time fiddling around in the car. It’s getting all the little things set in the right place that you many not normally think about. It’s like the brake bias knobs, which we had to modify. Every time I down shifted I would hit my hand on the brake bias. It’s little things like that that require a little tweaking and moving around.

For me it’s changes measured in fractions of inches or millimeters. The smallest increments make the biggest differences. For a test we changed my car so my gear lever was 5 mm out. In  the car it’s very little difference, but when I did a lap I knew straight away the lever was in the wrong place. Or I’m catching something else, or hitting my leg knocking things around.

Mecca of Speed: When you came over from Europe to race in Champ Car what did you find to be a strength of the series?

Justin Wilson: Champ Car is more relaxed and a nicer atmosphere. Everyone here is here to enjoy motorsports. Once you get on track it’s still serious racing where everyone is trying to win and nobody is going to give anything away. Off track everyone stops to talk and it’s a pleasant way to enjoy what you are doing.

Mecca of Speed: There are several go-kart races going on this weekend on the backside of the track. Yesterday you were talking with some of the go kart drivers. What type of advice were you giving them about racing and moving up through the various series?

Justin Wilson: The best advice is never to expect anything but believe you are capable of doing it. As soon as you expect to be the quickest, or expect to be at the front or what ever it is, things go wrong. However, if you believe you can do something and expect nothing you are going to have a much better chance of succeeding.

Mecca of Speed: During the test last month we interviewed A.J. Allmendinger and he claims to be the superior miniature golf player.

Justin Wilson: I would dispute that. Over the last three times we played I cut in half his championship lead. Then he took some of it back and then I took that back, so his championship lead has diminished over the last couple of months. He is feeling the pressure.

Mecca of Speed: Does this tournament end with the end of the Champ Car season?

Justin Wilson: I think it ends in December, so I have to keep the pressure on him. The last time we played was quite a turnaround. We played two games in one day. The first game he had a load of points. On the second game it came down to the last hole and I got a hole in one and went from third to first. He went from first to third, it was a big points swing so it was good.

Mecca of Speed: Is this golf tournament something that developed when you were both with RuSPORT as something to do from race to race to pass the time?

Justin Wilson: It’s something that started with A.J. and Aaron Justus when they were racing in Atlantics with RuSPORT and it progressed when I joined the team. I was hopeless at first and I still am, but I’m at a stage where I can challenge him. It’s really not about the goal, it’s all about competing against each other. No matter what we do we are competing against each other, and that is the safest thing we can do at any track we go to.

Mecca of Speed: You may be surprised how many people are following this competition.

Justin Wilson: Yeah, we need to start publishing the results and doing press releases. Maybe have a championship game.

Mecca of Speed: Outside of racing, what else do you like to do in your free time?

Justin Wilson: I’m not really sure. I spend most of my time training, weather it’s cycling, in the gym or swimming. I train most days that I’m not at the race circuit and that leaves the afternoons to myself, which can be anything from computer games, to playing golf with A.J. or just chilling out. Catching up on paperwork or what ever else I need to do. There is not one specific thing I do.

Mecca of Speed: If I walked into a bookstore in ten years and picked up a copy of the Justin Wilson biography, what would the title be?

Justin Wilson: I’ve never thought of that. There is a lot I want to achieve in the next ten years and a lot of ambitions, so I could not tell you what it would be called right now.

Mecca of Speed: Ten years from now it will be a work in progress?

Justin Wilson: Yes

Mecca of Speed: Describe your first Champ Car win in three words.

Justin Wilson: Fantastic, Memorable and Happy

Mecca of Speed: Look to next season, what is your impression of the new Panoz chassis?

Justin Wilson: Things look good. The car looks nice and so far the car has been very reliable. Everyone is looking forward to having their first go in the car. We can’t wait to get our first car and have a look around and start working with it. I’m very excited.

Mecca of Speed: One last question, what is on your iPod top ten list?

Justin Wilson: Coldplay and the Artic Monkeys. They make up my top ten list.

Mecca of Speed: Thank you for your time.

Justin Wilson: Thank you

Content credit Justin Wilson and John Vatne. Photo credit Scott Rohloff.