“It depends on the drivers,” laughed the Dale Coyne Racing veteran who won the 2005 Toronto Indy when it was sanctioned by Champ Car. “The races in Detroit kind of went that way. The first race on Saturday was pretty wild, and, then, in the second race on Sunday, the drivers all went insane and you saw what happened.”
Wilson, who also has two Toronto poles on his resumé, was talking about the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix double-header held in early June. It was the first of two-races-on-one-weekend scheduled by the IndyCar Series this season, with Toronto next weekend being the second and Houston in October the third.
The first race in Detroit, won by series part-timer Mike Conway (he’ll be racing here next weekend), saw a crash on the very first lap triggered by A.J. Allmendinger. Wilson managed to avoid the ensuing melee, as well as one later in which Sebastian Saavedra and Marco Andretti tangled, and went on to finish third.
The second race, on Sunday, won by Simon Pagenaud, saw another first-lap crash involving Allmendinger and nine (count ’em, nine) other cars and Wilson was eliminated along with four other drivers.
“I liked the first race (a podium) in Detroit,” said Wilson, “but not the second. I guess that’s what you have to expect when you race back-to-back like that.”
Still, Wilson is looking forward to returning to Toronto.
“I can’t wait for those races,” he said, when we talked on the telephone a few weeks ago. “I love the track in Toronto because it’s so challenging. It’s an interesting layout, but you go from asphalt to concrete (on the corners) and that tests your skill as a driver.”
Having said that, the Toronto street course can take its toll on a driver.
“It’s a very physical course,” said Wilson, who was ninth in the points race going into this weekend’s Pocono IndyCar 400 at Pocono International Raceway in Pennsylvania. “The (Toronto) track is very bumpy — there’s not a lot of suspension in these cars — and your elbows and your knees get banged around inside the car. You get blisters on your hands.”
Normally, race drivers get a week, sometimes two, between races to recover. As was the case in Detroit, Wilson and the others in Toronto will just have Saturday night to do it.
“I always feel I can do nutrition better,” said Wilson, who’s 6-foot-4 and weighs in at just under 200 pounds. “For these races, though, it’s really important to eat right at the right times and to be properly hydrated. Right after the first race on Saturday, for instance, I’m going to have a protein shake because the healing will have to start earlier.”
Psychologically, Wilson felt he learned a lot in Detroit. Normally, the Indy cars have two practice periods on the Friday of a race weekend, a Saturday morning practice, Saturday afternoon qualifying and Sunday afternoon race. In Detroit, Toronto and Houston, practice and qualifying are squeezed into one day, Friday, and then the weekend racing begins.
“We had (in Detroit) — and will have in Toronto — a pretty short practice and qualifying period, Wilson said. “In Detroit, I really didn’t feel like I was ready to go when the first race came around. I’ll be better prepared in Toronto.”
Wilson’s story is interesting, in that he had his heart set on Formula One — he won the Formula 3000 championship in 2001 — and made it to the top with Minardi for a season in 2003, thanks to a clever — and original — financing plan: he sold shares in himself to about 900 investors who put up a minimum of £500 apiece. So, is that still going?
“Actually, we’ll be having the final annual general meeting in just a few weeks,” Wilson said during our interview. “It was a 10-year investment plan and so it’s ending.”
And how did the investors do?
“Unfortunately, the recession hurt,” Wilson said. “We wanted a nice return,but we also were very clear to everybody going in that this could turn out to be a total loss. I think everybody understood the risks. I expect, in the end, and after the second payout, that everyone will get back in the neighbourhood of 70 per cent of their initial investment.”
Wilson says he’s happy with his IndyCar season to date, despite the fact he’s only had two third-place race finishes and one other top five in 2013.
“We’re always in the mix,” he said. “We can compete every weekend. I’ve made some mistakes, but we can win races and I think it’s very possible we can finish in the top five in the championship.” (He’s had four top-five points finishes in his career going back to 2004, including two second-place finishes and a third).
Wilson was happy to talk to me, and other reporters, when he was plugging the Toronto races a few weeks ago. He knows that once next weekend rolls around that the spotlight will be off him and very much on the newest IndyCar hometown hero, James Hinchcliffe of Oakville.
“I get on with him really well,” Wilson said. “I’m always impressed with him and he’s certainly had great success so far this season (three wins going into Sunday’s race at Pocono).
“In fact, I have to say that for a race driver, any day you can beat James Hinchcliffe is a great day, because he’s that good.”
Budd’s plans race day
There are races other than the two Honda Indys on tap at Exhibition Place next weekend. Just before the second main event next Sunday, for instance, a race in the Pirelli World Challenge Series is scheduled and one of the cars will be driven by Toronto sports car champion Mark Wilkins.
Budd’s Kia of Oakville (2400 South Service Rd. W. near Bronte Rd.), which is sponsoring Wilkins’ car as well as another, is making its facilities available Monday and Tuesday for the race cars to be prepared before they’re taken off to Exhibition Place in mid-week.
On Tuesday, beginning at 10:30 a.m., Wilkins will be on hand to sign autographs and answer questions before a BBQ lunch is served. A draw will be made for a package that includes admission to the Honda Indy Toronto race weekend. The race cars will be on display till 7 p.m.
Everybody interested in racing is welcome to drop by.
- NORRIS McDONALD