Byline: Simon Arron
Justin Wilson guns for British F3000 glory in curtain-raiser tomorrow
It's early summer, 1999. Two cars tear down the long main straight at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya, inches apart at about 180mph. Justin Wilson, born in Sheffield, is doing the catching. Max Wilson - Brazilian, unrelated - is being caught.
Wilson J darts out from behind his rival and draws alongside. Swiftly, ruthlessly his target moves across and leaves the Englishman no option but to go bounding over the grassy trackside border. At that speed it takes a lot more dexterity than they teach at BSM to maintain control, but he manages to do so using just one hand. His other arm is out of the cockpit, fist gesticulating at his assailant.
It was only his third race in the FIA Formula 3000 Championship, motor sport's approved training ground for future grand prix stars. All drivers use identical chassis, tyres and engines. The component that makes the biggest difference? That'll be the one sitting behind the wheel. But for his namesake's defensive chop, Wilson would have finished a promising third. Instead, he had to settle for sixth.
Three years on, the 22-year-old is quarry rather than hunter. Driving for Norfolk-based Coca-Cola Nordic Racing, he has led the FIA F3000 series since winning the opening event of the year in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This Saturday's race at Silverstone, curtain-raiser to the British Grand Prix, is the eighth of 12 rounds. To date Wilson has scored two wins, two second places, one third and a sixth. Wilson, who was 16 when he won the first car race he entered, is gunning to be the first British driver to lift the title. On current form talent-spotters should be forming a queue outside his rented Northampton home, but he has not received so much as a phone call. Rivals he beats regularly are being invited to conduct test work for F1 teams; Wilson gets to read about it in the specialist press.
He says: "I don't know what it takes to be fashionable, but the more I am ignored the more determined I am to succeed. It's frustrating to be overlooked, but this business isn't meant to be easy."
Physically, Wilson does not fit the common racing driver profile. Many look like flat-jockeys with particularly well-developed neck muscles; he is 6ft 3in. In 1997 he drove a Formula Vauxhall single-seater for recently knighted triple world champion Jackie Stewart, who told the Yorkshireman his physique made him better suited to racing saloon cars.
"That was difficult," Wilson says. "When someone like Jackie says such a thing, you start to wonder. But I want to get to F1 and giving up has never been my style."
Wilson's assignment at Silverstone this weekend is his only scheduled race on home soil in 2001, but he doesn't afford it special significance.
"It's just a weekend like any other," he says. "The only thing that interests me is winning. Whichever country we are in, I just want to prove I'm the best."
Copyright (C) The Times, 2001
Despite his height, Wilson is determined to prove his F1 worth