Justin Wilson has started 2012 with confirmation of his return to Dale Coyne Racing in IndyCar and a win at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, in his first race since injuring his back at Mid-Ohio last year. His younger brother Stefan has also been to Daytona, exploring the sports car racing scene with a trip to January's Rolex Series pre-Daytona test, and is seeking his next racing opportunity. After a breakout 2011 and with his plans still to be determined, the younger but taller Wilson spoke to RACER web editor Tony DiZinno about his 2012 prospects.
R: Compared to the IndyCar atmosphere, how would you assess the sports car paddock?
SW: I really enjoyed it. The first American event I went to was actually the Roar Before the 24 [preseason test] in 2009, when I came over for the first time. That sort of helped validate the decision to switch to American racing. Getting to go back there is fun and a good atmosphere. I'd shot some video, met some people and am definitely interested in getting into that arena.
R: What did you gain from that experience and did it shift your mindset to look more deeply at sports cars?
SW: I just came down for the test. I'm still dedicated to IndyCar and finding a way to stay in the series, primarily in Indy Lights. It was tough to put a deal together on short timing for the 24. But it did open my eyes to exploring opportunities in Grand-Am and ALMS for the rest of the year. I'm looking there, too. It takes a lot to stay in the seat in Indy Lights, but I want to keep on learning and going if I can.
R: Either by choice or by necessity, a lot of drivers with open-wheel roots have ventured in that direction. What do you take from that and have there been any drivers who have stuck out from moving over there?
SW: You do speak to some of them. Dane Cameron, actually, I'd known from 2006 when I first really started racing. The first race I ever did was in a Formula Palmer Audi, and Dane had come over from the States. I'd known him from then. A lot of these guys go through different levels and stages and careers and then get drawn over to the sports car scene. They discover good opportunities. It's kind of appealing.
This year, I spent a lot of time with Anders Krohn, as he got the opportunity with the Yellow Dragon Mazda program. Plus there were the two Indy Lights guys with (Jorge) Goncalvez and (Gustavo) Yacaman, bringing the car home third, which showed their capabilities and what we're capable of.
R: That car finishing on the podium was largely considered a surprise. What did it say about the potential of guys who hadn't done multi-class, multi-driver racing to be able to run as smoothly and consistently as they did in their 24-hour debuts?
SW: They did an amazing job. Finishing on the lead lap is really impressive for a 24-hour race. There are a lot of tough aspects about a 24-hour I've learned, from keeping the car in good condition, not going too hard, and having to pace the car. For rookies, coming up on lapped traffic in the GT class could have been tough, but they seemed to handle it well.
R: Naturally, though, you had your eye on your brother. What was his rehab process like leading up to and through his return to racing for the first time in six months?
SW: You look at his accident, and didn't think it was anything spectacular, but then all of a sudden you realized his back was really off. It was a shock to everyone. You wondered when he'd get back in a car, but I don't think we realized the severity of it until a couple months after it happened. He couldn't get back in the car when he wanted to.
But I knew he'd be able to come back like that, as we stuck together through the recovery period. He came out hungry, and was determined to prove he was on the same level as before. Doing a triple stint in the early hours of the morning was pretty impressive. I know my opinion's biased, but it was cool.
R: Your own 2011 was something of a breakout year, with two wins and third in the championship. How would you rate the year and how far you've come since you started in Indy Lights?
SW: To be honest, last year really wound up as my first full season doing Indy Lights. It's always been marred by lack of budget. My first year (2009), I only had done a couple races on the road courses with Derrick Walker, and we had a few good results. In 2010, I got the opportunity to drive with Bryan Herta's team. We had only about 10 races. The season standings weren't reflective of where we ran. We had some good runs, but one or two things seemed to go wrong at the wrong time. It just wasn't the right season.
Getting the opportunity with Andretti Autosport was the right opportunity, but we still hit budget issues. Not having the second car full season didn't allow us the best of sharing information and setup. It could have gone better, but you always look to making the best of your budget. The Toronto win was great, it was great to have Peter Dempsey there and lead a 1-2 finish.