INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — British driver Stefan Wilson has spent an entire year chasing a spot in this year’s Indianapolis 500 field.
The journey proved equally difficult for team owners Don Cusick and Elton Julian – until they joined forces.
On Thursday, the trio announced they had solved two problems by placing Wilson, 32, in the No. 25 Chevrolet, giving race organizers a 33rd entrant and almost certainly a full starting grid for the May 29 race.
“It was a journey,” Wilson said. “We started working on June 1 of last year. We had these plans that should have been so easy and it just didn’t end that way. There was, I think, a time when we all kind of gave up. But I continued to work, to make calls.
And now the IndyCar veteran will be rewarded with another chance to compete in “racing’s greatest spectacle” after finishing 33rd last year.
Getting here, however, required some unusual twists and turns, including a two-plus-hour meeting in the California desert between Julian and Cusick as Wilson anxiously awaited an answer.
Eventually, Julian’s DragonSpeed team, which suspended its IndyCar program during the pandemic, and Cusick, who made his first IndyCar start last May, took a car from the stable of AJ Foyt and decided to give it a shot.
“I didn’t know these guys before, although I’m old enough to remember AJ’s winning runs,” Cusick said. “But Larry (Foyt) has been very welcoming and helpful and we’re very grateful for everything they’ve done.”
Wilson brings back a household name with emotional ties to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He will attempt to relaunch his fourth career using the same number his older brother, Justin, drove when he died of injuries sustained during an IndyCar race at Pocono in August 2015.
This time the car will sport black, blue, red and white paint with a full line of sponsors including women’s golf apparel company Lohla Sport, Sierra Pacific Windows and Gnarly Premium Cut Jerky.
Wilson will use a Chevy engine for the first time since his first Indy appearance and could help Cusick and Julian get their long-term plans back on track. Both would like to run more races in the IndyCar series.
Julian thought the ongoing financial problems of the pandemic wouldn’t let him return to Indy until next year after selling his IndyCar gear to Michael Shank Racing. Brazilian Helio Castroneves won his record-breaking fourth 500 last year while riding for Shank.
Instead, Cusick and Wilson, who worked on the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup circuit this season, provided Julian with a path back to Indy.
“We’re basically coming back a year earlier than I had hoped,” Julian said. “Deep down in me it was always ’23, ’23, even though it was only the 500. I didn’t think too much about it this year and heard all the rumbles of I wish but I can ‘t, so I raised my hand.
Wilson was competitive on the historic 2.5-mile Brickyard oval. He led the 2018 race with four laps to go when his car ran out of fuel, dropping him to a career-best 15th place.
He won’t have much time to fine-tune his car with qualifying scheduled for May 21 and 22.
Wilson isn’t even sure he’ll have enough time to work on Chevy’s simulator. Instead, he’ll spend those precious few days building a relationship with his new engineer, crew members and other team officials.
The announcement ends weeks of speculation over who would become the 33rd entry. Mark Miles, CEO of IndyCar parent company Penske Entertainment, said in April he expected at least one more car and maybe two to do 500 laps.
Now, if the qualifying weekend goes as planned, the traditional field of 33 cars should take the green flag. And Wilson intends to be ready for anything, including the possibility of a 34th entry trying to keep him out of contention.
“We have to execute as a team,” Wilson said. “And I have to run as a pilot.”
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