Byline: Kevin Eason
Kevin Eason speaks to the British racing driver going flat out for success
Justin Wilson has found a solution to being one of the tallest motor racing drivers in the world: he plans to lie down on the job. The 6ft 3in young man from Sheffield found his career hampered by team principals sceptical that he could ever fit into their Formula One cars because his head would pop up in front of the top-mounted airbox, which scoops air into the high-performance engines.
The layout of the Lola-built Champ Car that he will drive when the season starts at Long Beach, California, this weekend means he has to lie almost flat on the floor. But Wilson will aim to prove that he is still a cut above the rest.
He has tested his Mi-Jack Conquest Racing Lola and showed that he could have the pace to make the rest worry about the entry of this quiet Englishman. "I spent a while just getting used to the car at first but, once I did, I felt really good," he said.
"The main thing for me was the seat position. You are more laid-down in these cars than you are in Formula One but it's actually quite comfortable once you get used to it. I think with a little more seat time and more time with the team, we'll be fine.
"The thing is to get started. I am really looking forward to the first race and getting back into racing. Of course, I was disappointed not to hold on to a place in Formula One, but, if I have to make my career in the United States, then I will do it and enjoy it."
The former Jaguar Racing and Minardi grand prix driver was forced to switch his attention to the United States after being dropped by Jaguar after five races with the team. The disappointment for a driver whose dignity and enthusiasm never wavered was palpable up and down the pitlane, particularly as he was replaced by Christian Klien, a rookie Austrian whose main contribution appeared to be the reported Pounds 4 million of sponsorship he was bringing into the team.
Wilson, 25, only got his chance in Formula One because he raised more than Pounds 1 million by public subscription to buy his way into Minardi, even though he had a track record as a driver second to none, winning the Palmer Audi series and then the Formula 3000 title at a canter in a year when it was contested by Mark Webber, now a star at Jaguar. His performances won him his short spell at Jaguar at the end of the season, but Wilson barely had time to get his feet under the table before he was ditched.
It was an undignified exit, but Nigel Mansell knew the feeling when he was thrown out by Williams in 1992 after becoming Formula One world champion. He crossed the pond and a year later was Britain's first and only Champ Cars champion, a feat Wilson wants to emulate.
The Champ Cars series is labouring, though, and was out of business but for a last-ditch financial rescue earlier this year. Top teams have deserted to the rival Indy Racing League (IRL), but 18 Champ Cars will line up for the first race with hopes high that the series can be revived with drivers of Wilson's stature competing.
Wilson is part of the exodus of Britons leaving for the US to find a top drive.
While he is at Long Beach, the drivers dubbed Britain's "Fab Four" -Darren Manning, Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon and Mark Taylor -are at the Motegi circuit in Japan, competing in the IRL. Fortunately, they avoided first-day shenanigans in which four cars crashed in practice for the Indy Japan 300 and the champion, Scott Dixon, broke an ankle. Dixon has just returned from Europe, where he was given a test by BMW-Williams.
Of the Britons, Wheldon has made the best showing so far and is third in the championship standings.
Copyright (C) The Times, 2004
Fresh start: Wilson, the racing driver from Sheffield, is targeting a successful season in the Champs Car series after finding his 6ft 3in frame unsuitable for life in Formula One