Stefan Wilson continues to churn out laps as he looks to find a good balance for Sunday. (Penske Entertainment/Joe Skibinski)

Wilson Focused On Steady Growth In Lead Up To Indy

To say that Stefan Wilson’s road to Sunday’s 106th Indianapolis 500 has been a steep, tall order, would be selling the journey short.

The No. 25 DragonSpeed/Cusick Motorsports entry has seen it all since hitting the track for Wilson’s rookie orientation program last Tuesday.

Coming out of the pits to begin the refresher course, Wilson radioed to the crew that he couldn’t find the pit lane speed limiter on his steering wheel. The reason happened to be that the wheel wasn’t meant to ever be locked into an IndyCar.

Wilson is set to make his 4th Indy 500 appearance. (Penske Entertainment/ Joe Skibinski)

“The steering wheel was all stickered completely opposite of what it was supposed to,” Wilson said. “Coming together last minute, we had to borrow a steering wheel from another team that might’ve been even on a P2 (Pro 2000) car or an Indy Lights car. So, it’s not an IndyCar steering wheel. That was the mistake there, it was like, ‘the pit lane speed limiter button’s not working, so which one is it?’”

Once that minor inconvenience was resolved, the 32-year-old quickly acclimated to his surroundings.

“It’s kind of like riding a bike,” Wilson said. “You get back in the car after a year and within one or two laps, it starts coming back to you and that feeling and what you’re looking for from the car. I felt like Tuesday was a really positive day for us. We got through a bunch of items on the checklist. We felt really positive.”

When Wednesday’s practice was rained out, most teams didn’t give it much thought because they had plenty of data from the Open Test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in April.

Since the No. 25 team was a late entry — less than two weeks before practice opened — the rain couldn’t have fallen at a worse time.

“The rain that came on Wednesday really hurt us, more so than others because we missed the two days of testing in April,” Wilson said. “That really kind of condensed the schedule.

“It feels like the month of May has shrunk down to just a couple of days and we’re trying to find our feet a little bit, and trying to work on the setup to get me as comfortable as possible, and get me feeling like it needs to. That’s definitely made it challenging, just the lack of track time.”

Though teams were able to get on track for a six-hour practice session on Thursday, nothing seemed to suit the No. 25 Chevrolet’s liking.

“Thursday, we got through even more changes, but we just never hit the right ones it felt like,” Wilson said. “So, it was a trying day on Thursday. We tried a lot of changes, but none of them were the positive one that we were looking for.”

The next wrench thrown at the British driver, was a detrimental one. During the final practice before Saturday’s qualifying session, Wilson went to shift into third gear, only to feel the transmission go out of rhythm as it shifted down to second instead.

The No. 25 team working on the car in the garage. (Penske Entertainment/Walt Kuhn)

That brought on a frantic dash for the combination of team members from DragonSpeed and A.J. Foyt Racing to replace the engine only minutes before qualifying began.

Unfortunately for Wilson, the team was unable to make a qualifying attempt and he’ll start Sunday’s 500-mile race shotgun on the field in 33rd.

“I was hoping it would be a lot less stressful on Saturday, than it was,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately, the boys had to work even harder than I was hoping they had to.”

Though it’s been a trying effort for the group that was brought together only two weeks prior, Wilson sees the positives of how the team has meshed during that timeframe.

“I think we’ve gelled actually pretty quick and we’re starting to bounce ideas off each other really well,” Wilson said. “That’s been positive. Then, getting to know the crew and then also just how we fit into the rest of the A.J. Foyt Racing squad. They’ve got three cars that are racing this weekend. We’re kind of like a fourth, so we’re like a satellite (team). But we’re trying to work with them. That’s a gelling process all in its own, of just my engineer (Will Phillips) working with their engineers. My crew understanding from their crew, and just everyone working together. It’s been a tall order to get all those pieces to gel in such a short amount of time.”

With the comfortability within the makeshift team continuing to grow, Wilson’s comfort level inside the cockpit of the No. 25 machine now becomes the focal point heading into Carb Day on Friday.

“It’s just all race-running now,” Wilson said. “We’ve got a few setup changes that we want to make, but I need to get stuck in, get into some dirty air, and get a good feel for what it’s going to be like starting from 33rd.”

Race-running was on hand for Monday’s penultimate practice session, as Wilson worked his way around the 2.5-mile oval for 88 laps. Those laps gave the driver and the car more data points to lean on for Sunday.

“Starting back there, we need a car that can run close to others,” Wilson said. “I’m going to have my face full of dirty air all day, so that’s going to be important. Hopefully, we can keep tweaking the car, finding some changes that are positive, and keep allowing me to get closer and closer to cars, and hopefully make some passes.”

As Wilson has been busy at work behind the wheel, he’s also found a way to take a step back and see the growth of the NTT IndyCar Series.  

Wilson takes a photo with a fan. (Penske Entertainment/Chris Jones)

“This year, I feel like it’s bigger than any of the years that I’ve done, and I did the 100th, and that was pretty massive,” Wilson remarked. “It feels like after COVID, there’s just a huge vibe of energy around the speedway. Lots of fans, lots of interest in the sport. It’s a wave that IndyCar needs to capitalize on.

“We need to really make sure that these new fans that are finding out and exploring what the sport is all about, that they have a great time and they want to keep coming back to more races as well,” Wilson said. “It’s already been a busy month, the garage areas are packed, there’s been so many fans. I’m overwhelmed, I don’t expect to be recognized, or that many people to be cheering for me as just a one-off. But the fan support for myself and the No. 25 DragonSpeed/Cusick Motorsports car has just been phenomenal. (I’m) just thankful for that and appreciate everyone’s support.”

With the unknowns of what 500 miles in The Greatest Spectacle in Racing will produce, Wilson and the DragonSpeed/Cusick Motorsports team are keeping it simple for what they believe will make Sunday a successful day.

“If I run all 500 miles,” Wilson said. “That honestly is probably the goal right now, is just to run the whole 500 miles. If I can finish on the lead lap and run all 500 miles, I will be pretty happy with that performance. Just coming from where we were just a couple weeks ago, that would be a victory. Anything more than that is just the cherry on top.”

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