INDIANAPOLIS (26 May 2014) – Year after year, the key to a big finish in the 200-lap Indianapolis 500 is to stay out of trouble early, improve the car through the first 100 laps, and be in a position to fight for the win as the race enters its final stages.
Dale Coyne Racing driver Justin Wilson had checked off all those boxes on Sunday, running eighth in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda/Dallara with just ten laps to go in the 2014 Indianapolis 500.
But as with any race, the Indianapolis 500 also requires some good racing luck, and that was the only item that went unchecked for Wilson.
After a busy race morning that included a range of media interviews as well as a visit with an enthusiastic crowd of guests in the Honda suite, Wilson opened the race from 14th on the grid and fought with a loose condition in the opening segments of the 200-lap classic as the 79-degree ambient temperature saw track temperatures escalate.
The first pit stop some 30 laps later saw the Mike Cannon-led engineering team integrate initial changes to improve the handling of the car through stop after stop. Wilson and Cannon continued to make progress with the car as a frantic opening run of some 146-laps of green flag running exacerbated any small challenge in the flat out pace.
But Wilson’s experience and the continued tweaks saw the No. 19 car move into the top-10 as the race moved towards the final stages.
Alas, a lap 191 accident ahead of Wilson littered the track with debris. As Wilson approached the scene at top speed, he scrubbed off as much pace as possible as he looked for a clear path through the bodywork and car parts. Unfortunately, the track offered no clean lane and Wilson struck multiple bits of debris.
The contact damaged the front wing of the car and forced an extra pit stop to change wings as well as replace the rear view mirror that had also been knocked astray of the car.
The team worked adroitly to execute the front wing and mirror fixes, but making a stop under green flag conditions in the closing moments of the race meant that Wilson’s possible return to another Indianapolis 500 top-5 instead changed quickly to a 22nd-place finish.
“(Townsend Bell) hit the wall and it’s right at that point that he’s coming back across so at that point I had to dive the other way, and it was just a complete debris field,” said Wilson. “I hit the engine cover and it broke the front wing and the mirror. It was right before the cockpit opening, so I’m pretty lucky. We struggled today and the car was a handful at times. We were right behind (Sebastien) Bourdais in eighth and we were struggling, but that would have been another top-10 finish at Indy but we ended up 22nd which is so disappointing.”
Wilson will look to improve his racing fortunes next weekend as the Verizon IndyCar Series heads to Detroit for a double header.