Justin Wilson says the fractured vertebrae he suffered during an IZOD IndyCar Series practice session in August at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is but a distant – albeit painful – memory.
The IZOD IndyCar Series race winner will return to competition this weekend in the 50th anniversary Rolex 24 at Daytona. Wilson will co-drive the No. 60 LiveOn.com Daytona Prototype (ABOVE) with AJ Allmendinger, Oswaldo Negri and John Pew.
"It was a long six months. It was frustrating; you want to get back in the car," said Wilson, who was announced late Wednesday as the driver for Dale Coyne Racing. The Briton was recently cleared to drive this season by IndyCar medical officials.
Wilson says he's fit for the rigors of multiple driving stints on the 2.56-mile, 12-turn circuit in the Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian car.
"To take it easy; that was the only prescription," he said of the recovery and rehabilitation. "About five weeks they said I could start to swim and I just built that up, and at about 12 weeks I added cycling. I was fortunate that there was no surgery so that made life a lot easier. I just had to concentrate on getting the movement and strength back and make sure I don't damage anything in the meantime."
Michael Shank Racing's best finish in the event (second place) came in 2006 with Wilson, Allmendinger, Negri and Mark Patterson co-driving. Of course, drivers and the team principal believe they have a great opportunity to climb one step on the podium.
"The key is working out some of the changes we made and making sure we really understand and know what we're doing," Wilson added. "The conditions change so much. Obviously, the middle of the night is much colder than the middle of the day so it's just getting a good handle on that so we can attack in every condition and situation and I think we've made some good changes on the car that allow us to do that."
A second Michael Shank Racing with Curb/Agajanian Daytona Prototype entry will be co-driven by Firestone Indy Lights drivers Gustavo Yacaman and Jorge Goncalvez, plus Michael McDowell and Felipe Nasr.
"We're as ready as we can be and we're eager to get going," said Shank, whose MSR Indy team is also expected on the grid of the IZOD IndyCar Series season opener March 25 in St. Petersburg, Fla. "I'm very proud of the effort this whole team has put in, and I'm very excited about our chances this year. We've got an exciting lineup of guys, and we know that this race will be as much about performance as it will be about patience."
Other IZOD IndyCar Series drivers competing in the Daytona Prototype class include Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti in the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates car, Ryan Briscoe in the No. 10 SunTrust Racing car and Paul Tracy in the No. 77 Doran Racing entry.
"It's a fun weekend," said Franchitti, the four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion. "You try not to take it too seriously – then you take it seriously when you get into the car."