Just like his Andretti Autosport teammate Stefan Wilson, Indy Lights driver Stefan Wilson is a great ambassador to motorsports and IndyCar’s youth movement.
Stefan is the younger brother of IZOD IndyCar Series driver Justin Wilson, and has also competed overseas. He is the youngest recipient of the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award, which he won in 2007 at the age of 17.
Wilson signed to race a partial schedule in Firestone Indy Lights in 2009 for First Motorsports with cars prepared by Walker Racing that included six road and street courses. He qualified third at Long Beach but was sidelined by a mechanical problem towards the finish.
His best finish was fourth in the wet/dry race at Toronto.
In 2010 returned to the series to race for Bryan Herta Autosport. Wilson finished 11th in points despite missing one race due to funding issues and another due to a damaged racecar. He had a career-best finish of third in the season opener at St. Pete and ran the fastest race lap in Toronto.
He returns to Indy Lights full-time in 2011 with Andretti Autosport. He currently sits third in points, just 20 points behind championship leaders Connor Daly and Josef Newgarden.
The following interview was conducted earlier this month at Barber Motorsports Park before the Firestone Indy Lights Series event in Birmingham, Ala.
RacingObserverMatt: When did you start racing and at what point did you decide that you could do this for a living?
Stefan Wilson: I started karting at ten years old at all the local tracks. My dad raced when he was younger in the 60s and 70s and I just grew up in that atmosphere.
Of course, my brother Justin races in the IndyCar Series, and has done pretty well for himself.
But it all stemmed from our father. We were never pressured to race but growing up in that environment, we wanted to race.
I began touring Europe in my teens and won the McLaren Young Driver Award, which was an under-23 years-old competition. Out of that, I received a McLaren Formula One test when I was 17 and raced across the continent.
I fared fairly well, as did Justin.
Matt: You’ve run a limited Indy Lights schedule the past couple of seasons. Do you plan on running the full circuit?
Stefan: This is my first full-season in Lights, yes. We’re really focusing on IndyCar now.
We really struggled to find support the past several seasons so we only ran six races in 2009 and 11 in 2010. I really think we could have contended for a championship if we had run the full season. We had really strong runs.
I showed that potential to prospective sponsors and I really feel like they see that potential as well.
Matt: The name Andretti invokes a special aura in motorsports. What is it like being a part of Andretti Autosport?
Stefan: It’s awesome being with Andretti Autosport.
Back to the sponsor and support [scenario], all I have to do is mention the Andretti name and my affiliation with it and they think it’s awesome. They are a well-recognized global brand and I’m just really glad to be a part of it.
Matt: You mentioned growing up with Formula One. Is Grand Prix Racing your ultimate goal?
Stefan: It’s all Indy – no F1.
I grew up wanting Formula One – you can’t help but wanting to do it. F1 is so prominent and important to the region but I’ve refocused my career path. I want to drive Indy cars and hopefully move up and race against my big brother.
Matt:What are some of the differences in the F1 ladder system and the one here in IndyCar?
Stefan: IndyCar is more about the driver and personalities.
The atmosphere is more positive and optimistic – especially with the upswing our series is experiencing right now – which is something that is really helping our search for sponsors.
I don’t even consider Formula 1.
Matt: How much of a help is it having a brother in the same paddock every week? Do you guys speak much?
Stefan: (Justin and I) really don’t speak that much during race weekends. It’s just so busy out here – we’re both really busy.
We speak during the season’s off-weeks. It’s good to have a brother at the highest level – we’re really close to one another.
Matt: Could you describe what it’s like to talk to prospective sponsors and supporters?
Stefan: Since the credit crunch in 2007, it’s been a lot harder to find groups willing to commit to you. Thankfully, that’s starting to pick up just like the IndyCar Series, really.
Having our races visit more markets alongside the IZOD Series has really helped us – the same goes for the new TV package. It really helps too.
Matt: Thanks, man. Good luck this weekend.