Stefan Wilson put the finishing touches on a punishing day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with some well-deserved pizza and beer. The comfort food was a reward for enduring the disappointment of being unable to post a qualifying run for the Indy 500 in his A.J. Foyt Racing-supplied and supported No. 25 Cusick Motorsports/DragonSpeed Chevy.
Being sidelined was the result of an error made while assembling the transmission’s gear stack where third gear was errantly placed in the position where second was meant to be installed.
With second gear inserted where third was expected, Wilson accelerated hard from first to what he thought was second gear until reaching the 12,000 rpm shift point, and then selected third gear, only to find a lower gear awaiting use. With it engaged at a higher rate of speed than was envisioned, the shift sent his 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 Chevy motor spinning well beyond its accepted threshold.
From there, Wilson’s Ilmor Engineering/Chevy Racing engine technician saw worrying evidence that his motor was not long for this world and an engine change was set in motion at a most inopportune time. As the field of drivers prepared to start qualifying, the No. 25 Chevy was split into a dozen different pieces, and with the DragonSpeed crew performing its first IndyCar motor change, added time was required to complete the process.
By the time the car was ready to roll and head to technical inspection, rainfall blanketed the Speedway, cutting almost half of the nearly six hours of qualifying out of the schedule. Wilson’s Cusick/DragonSpeed/Foyt crew would spend the remainder of the afternoon stuck in the garage and unable to venture out for a qualifying run.
For the last-minute entry that came together to help IndyCar reach 33 entries for the Indy 500, starting 33rd is a significant disappointment.
“A mistake was made with a gear stack, and obviously that buzzed the engine which meant that we had to pull it out,” Wilson told RACER. “These things happen, so you can’t blame anyone because every team has had something like this, or something similar, happen before. There was really no way of knowing that was going to happen until I went to third gear. That’s disappointing, no doubt, but we wanted to go back out and we just essentially skipped shifting to third, which was a better way of going up the gears on that next run in the practice, and we ran a 229.9 [mph] lap, which I was stoked about.
“We thought we could qualify in that 229, maybe low 230 range, which would have been awesome and would have gotten us off the last row. But Chevy saw something in that first run they didn’t like and we had to abort the run. At that point, we’re really racing against the weather and we didn’t get to run, unfortunately. So we’re all disappointed. At the same time, we’ve got to keep our chin up and look towards the next time on track on Monday. We have to make the best of the situation.”
If there’s one ignominious aspect to how Saturday played out for Wilson, it’s in where he’ll start his fourth Indy 500.
“My biggest goal was to not have to go to the Last Row Party,” he said with a laugh. “That’s the one thing I really didn’t want to have to do, but here we are. That’s just the way it goes. It wasn’t my best day at Speedway…”