One-on-one with Toronto polesitter Justin Wilson
by Mark Cipolloni

 July 8, 2006

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Justin Wilson
LAT for Champ Car

On Saturday morning in Toronto, Canada I caught up with RuSPORT Champ Car driver Justin Wilson to get to know this tall British ex-F1 driver.  I was most curious to learn how he came to race in North America and whether he was happy with his decision to move his career over to this side of the Atlantic.

Q. Do they still call you Justin "Too Tall" Wilson, is that a nickname you once had?  - Referring to the difficulty he has fitting comfortably in some race cars due to his height.
JUSTIN WILSON: No, a couple people did call me that, but I've been called many things over the years.

Q. You are one of the taller race drivers out there today.  Do you fit well in these Champ Cars?
JUSTIN WILSON: In the Champ Car it's okay. It's the same as any car I've driven. It's tight. There's not much room left. Fortunately I'm right on the limit just underneath it. Each race weekend, I do something else, we have to put a little more padding in place or take a bit of padding out; so depending on the circuit layout to how comfortable I am. But it's still possible to drive the car.

Q. Has Champ Car given you any assurances that the new car will be as big or bigger than the current one as far as room for the drivers?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, they sent, actually RuSPORT did a model of me in the same design package that they had and sent that across to them, and I believe that's all good. So I should get to see the new car in the near future and make sure I do actually fit in the real thing.

Q.  Do you live in the States full time now or do you still commute back and forth across the pond (Atlantic)?
JUSTIN WILSON: I still spend a bit of time in the U.K., also time in Colorado where the team is based. So I split my time between the two.

Q. How is it living in America compared to back home?
JUSTIN WILSON: I like it. I think it's good fun. It's relaxed and I'm just able to concentrate on the racing when I'm over here. When I go back to the U.K., there's other things that come up. So I like being in the States and just focused solely on the racing.

Q. Does part of you still miss Formula 1, or have you decided that this is your future?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, this is where I want to be. I went to the British Grand Prix on a Friday and visited the paddock there and saw some people, but that's not what I'm looking to do. That was more of a social visit than anything else. I don't really look to go back. I experienced that and I really enjoy racing over here now.

Q. When did you get started in racing as a young kid in England?
JUSTIN WILSON: I started racing cars at eight years old and started as a hobby. And after the first weekend, it became pretty serious and grew from there. I moved into open wheel cars at 16.  I just progressed through the different ranks.

Q. Is there the racing in your family, did your father do it or your uncle?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, my father used to race Formula Fords back in the 60s and early 70s. He stopped when he had a big accident. That put an end to his career.

You know, like I said, when I was eight years old, he was looking for a hobby, and I was just looking to drive something. I had always been interested and when I got the opportunity to get behind a vehicle and I jumped at the chance.

Q. Champ Car is a very diverse range of tracks going from a speed circuit like in Long Beach to a semi speed circuit here to a natural terrain road course in Portland to an airport in Cleveland and to an oval in Milwaukee. Does that make it difficult to adapt to this as a driver?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, but that's part of the challenge that we like. You know, you have to master all these different techniques, like you say, you're driving on ovals, you're driving on street circuits and airports, and it's not a normal road course like what we're used to back in Europe. You have to understand each one and get the most out of it. When you do get the most out of it, it's very rewarding. It's the ultimate drivers challenge.

Q. Being inside the cockpit of a Champ Car versus an F 1 car, which you've done, which one is more violent, so to speak, and is one smooth and kind of calm and the other one much more rough and vibrations?
JUSTIN WILSON: They are both the same. I would say Formula 1 car is a little bit more harsher at higher speeds because, you know, when all the downforce is on all the car it is compressed and it has no suspension. 150 miles an hour, there's zero suspension. So it's a pretty harsh ride. It doesn't do your spine a lot of good.

But the Champ Car is a little bit more physical as far as you have to manhandle these cars and stay on top of them. You can't just sit back and let the car do the work.

Justin Wilson in his CDW sponsored car
LAT for Champ Car

Q. When you say "manhandle," you mean throw the car a little bit, or does getting it sideways kill all the downforce?
JUSTIN WILSON: No, because on a slick tire, you have to push it just over the edge of the grip, you have to be right on that limit and just, you know, you're rocking forwards and backwards on that limit. Whereas in the Formula 1 car, you have the groove tires, so the car slides a little bit easier on the tires. On the high speed corners, it's pretty hard to get close to the limit because there's so much downforce. It's just a different driving technique.

You know, in the Champ Car, in some corners, you can slide the car. You get it into a four wheel drift, you can't see it from outside the car, but inside the car, you know the whole thing is sliding, and that's the quickest way through the corner. You set yourself up as you enter the corner and you drift through the corner and it's the quickest way. You know, it's corner to corner, but that kind of comes down to technique and experience.

Q. You have a new teammate now, Cristiano da Matta. How is that working out?
JUSTIN WILSON: Pretty good. I think we're learning some things. It's basically a third voice with myself and A.J. comments on how the car feels and having Cristiano coming in. It gives us another data point and more experience.

Q. Do you enjoy the same type of setup or are your setups very different from each other?
JUSTIN WILSON: Pretty similar. He's still learning the exact differences between our driving styles and therefore the difference in the setup. We start this weekend very similar, still pretty similar style. You know, I think if I find something that's going to help him and he finds something that's going to help me, ultimately that's good for the team.

Q. Are you as close (on setups) with Cristiano versus A.J. or were all about the same?
JUSTIN WILSON: They are all about the same. There was times last year where, you know, I found a setup on Friday and A.J. would use that on Saturday. And I would use his setup on Sunday, so we kind of evolved and vice versa.

In Mexico City, Friday, A.J. was on pole and I was fourth and not really happy. So Friday night, I put his setup on, went out and got pole on Saturday. So we did the same thing. Sometimes we're very different, sometimes we're the same setup.

Q. Last year you won a couple races, you won Mexico City and you also won Toronto. This year you've been knocking on the door but you haven't quite got that win yet, has it been a little frustrating?
JUSTIN WILSON: A little bit. We've been so close. Long Beach we were second, but not really challenging. And Houston was a struggle. Went to Monterrey and were right there. Milwaukee, we're right there. Portland, we're right there. Cleveland we're almost there. We felt we had the mileage to make that one happen (a win). It's just missing that final little bit. Some weekends, it's luck and some weekends, it's more mechanical. So hopefully we can do that soon.

Q. You won here last year, so obviously you have a good setup from last year. So far this weekend, I guess you qualified 2nd for provisional pole, so looks like you're feeling pretty good, do you think you can put it on pole today? [Later he did just that]
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, we're feeling pretty good. Yesterday we were the quickest on the black tires, the standard tires. But it didn't quite feel enough with the option. So we've still got a little bit of work to do. We've been working on that overnight, trying to understand our problems and we feel if we can find the right answer for that, we're going to be setting the pace. So this morning is going to be interesting.

Q. This morning will you be going out on blacks or reds?
JUSTIN WILSON: All blacks. We only get two option tires, so we save those for qualifying.

Q. Can you test the reds in practice, so to speak, and then run them in qualifying too?

Q. They lose their edge?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, all the tires are best on that first run. So, you know, after the first run, you basically knock off a half second. That's what you have to deal with. You have to work it out.

So we only really use them in qualifying. In Cleveland, I think we used a set in warm-up, just to understand what was going on, just to give us an understanding before we went for it. The thing is, actually qualifying warm-up, we call that the second qualifying. But most of the time, the set goes through qualifying, and we opted to use one set yesterday, and that's good if you get the pole; it's not so good if you miss it. So it's a gamble we took. Last time we took it, it paid off. This time it didn't. You know, we just have to work with that. Now we still feel if we get everything right, we can do it on one set.

Q. In the race, you have to run one set stint on red tires, right?

Q. Would they be the ones you used from qualifying or would they be a brand new set?
JUSTIN WILSON: We'll use the second one in today's qualifying, so they will both have the same amount of laps on them. There's no difference. Everyone's in the same boat.

Q. Hope you can repeat last year's performance and best of luck.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

Go to our forums to discuss this article


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