Stefan Wilson was a man of many emotions on Sunday. His 225.863mph qualifying average was good enough for 23rd on the grid for his second Indy 500, and fourth fastest among his six Andretti Autosport Honda teammates, but the Briton wanted more.
Wilson, embracing the greater good for IndyCar, stepped aside from the Andretti ride he’d secured with support from the Indiana Donor Network in 2017 to allow Formula 1 superstar Fernando Alonso to participate, and while he was back in his element, competing at Indy, anything less than pole — or leading the Andretti squad — was going to be a disappointment.
That fighting spirit — never being satisfied, always aware there’s more speed to be found, is a shared characteristic that his late older brother also used to such great effect.
“We had some tricks up our sleeve we wanted to try on Friday and didn’t get to,” Wilson told RACER. “I feel like we’re going to implement those changes tomorrow because starting where we’re starting, we’re going to need to pass a lot of people.
“I was thinking about this earlier that the last time I’d driven an Indy car, it was May 29, 2016. You’ve really only got three practice days before it all changes for [Fast] Friday, so, really, I feel like I’ve learned a lot this week. And hopefully there’s not two years before I’m next in an Indy car and I can put what I’ve learned to good use next year.
“I’m happy, but I’m also happy I’m disappointed because I feel we have some more and we need to get a little more out of it.”
Wilson’s alignment with IDN and its Driven2SaveLives campaign came as a result of his brother’s death in 2015 while competing in the Pocono IndyCar race. As an organ donor, Justin Wilson’s sacrifice saved the lives of numerous people who were on wait lists to receive healthy internal organs. From all the positive awareness it created, IDN got behind Stefan’s Indy 500 effort in 2016 to use it as a vehicle to register more donors, and they’ve returned in force this year with his No. 25 Andretti Honda and the No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda driven by Pippa Mann.
Using a different donor campaign slogan for Mann’s Donate Life car, IDN had hoped to double their reach, but with Mann’s failure to qualify for the Indy 500, Wilson’s Driven2SaveLives initiative stands as the only message that will be brought forth on race day.
“Honestly, it’s been so strange because my story and my connection to organ donation is so real and so raw, it’s not just a sponsorship deal to race the Indy 500; it means so much more to me than that,” he said. “It’s a live partnership, and it’s been strange seeing press coverage elsewhere especially when I feel like we’re representing the 115,000 people waiting for organ donation and we have 25 patient names on our car. It’s an incredible story.
“Getting to meet the people has also been amazing; I got to meet a little girl who had a heart transplant two weeks ago and she’s already out looking at her name on our front wings. For me, as a driver, as the brother of a donor, there’s a lot of pride to be carrying the fight for organ donation, and I’ll be taking that on my shoulders for them as the only car in the race.”