Stefan Wilson calls it ‘Yorkshire grit.’ It’s named after his birthplace in England, passed down from his mother and father, and has fueled the inextinguishable motivation found within the 31-year-old.
He’ll put that grit to work once more when he chases victory in a few weeks’ time at the Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport, which comes following a two-year hiatus from his last participation in The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
After capturing two wins and placing third in the Indy Lights championship back in 2011, Wilson’s hopes of becoming a regular in the NTT IndyCar Series failed to manifest. Late in the 2013 season, he finally made his first start, serving as a teammate to his late brother Justin at Dale Coyne Racing. Then came a three-year wait until his next start, which happened to be at the Indy 500. His 2018 Indy campaign, where he led late in the race for Andretti Autosport, took the number up to three IndyCar starts in six years.
For most drivers, that kind of infrequency might suggest it’s time to pursue a different dream, and that’s where Wilson’s lineage and Yorkshire roots have come into play. Just as his older brother showed his rivals and fans, Wilson’s fighting spirit wouldn’t let an unfulfilling run to 15th place with Andretti become the end of the story.
“Hopping out of the car in 2018 at the 500, it was very emotional,” Wilson told RACER. “It was the fact that I’ve just been leading and came so close to this amazing finish, and then there was the fact that I had nothing on the other end of that. I’m standing there thinking, ‘Dammit, is that as close as I’m ever going to get? Am I ever going to run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway again?’
“So that was what’s going through my mind. Then you hear all those stories of the guys who wish they’d had one more crack at it, but never got it. And I just didn’t want to be that guy. So I started working myself non-stop to try and get back in 2019. And things fell apart at the last minute there and it looked pretty bleak after that. But I never gave up.”
Asked a little over six weeks ago if he had a chance at being in this year’s Indy 500 field, Wilson was rather dejected, saying that none of his attempts to raise the funding had come to fruition.
“Then up until about five weeks ago, I really didn’t have a lot going on,” he added. “At that point, after being out for two years, I’m asking myself if it’s even possible to get back to Indy.”
“Fortunately, I was in the right place at the right time. I just didn’t give in to that worry about if I could make something happen, and we find myself back here with an amazing team with Andretti and some new partners to do it with like Don and Carolyn Cusick and Lisa O’Hurley. That’s how we ended up with No. 25 LOHLA SPORT Honda. It’s been like a whirlwind for me these last five weeks.”
We Are Back 👊
I'm excited to officially announce that together with @LOHLASPORT and Cusick Motorsports, I'll be back at @FollowAndretti to drive the No. 25 @Honda-powered @IndyCar in an attempt to qualify for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500!#INDYCAR // #Indy500 pic.twitter.com/qLFsfeJ5hU
— Stefan Wilson (@stef_wilson) May 4, 2021
Wilson’s perseverance has not only been rewarded with a third opportunity to win the Indy 500, but he also has the talented Andretti group from 2018 behind the program to provide consistency.
“The good news is the team I had in 2018 around me, most of that group is returning with this effort,” he said. “I’m working with Doug Zister again as the engineer, so he and I had a really good working relationship. Coming back for this time for this effort, I was hoping they would plug us back in together.
“I’ve not driven with the aeroscreen, which I’ll need to learn, but I’m ready to jump right in and get to work. I think it’s important that that sixth Andretti [Indy 500] car is not just riding the coattails of the others, so I’m going in ready to contribute to the rest of the effort and then race like mad against everyone.”