WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — Justin Wilson has put his signature moment in the IndyCar Series in his rearview mirror. He won't soon forget it, though.
A year ago, driving for Dale Coyne Racing, Wilson started on the front row at Watkins Glen International and dominated the race, stunning the field by leading 49 of 60 laps around the 11-turn, 3.4-mile course.
"We were the only team last year to beat Penske or Ganassi, so there were a lot of people coming up saying, 'It's great to see someone finally beat them and remind everyone else that it is possible,'" Wilson said. "It felt like it meant something."
It also gave Coyne his first victory after 25 years of trying.
"It was a bit of a surprise because everybody was running pretty strong. Penske and Ganassi finished two, three, four behind us," Coyne recalled. "A lot of teams get their first win by default sometimes, and those two teams are so dominant, so strong, that to be able to straight up beat them and outrun them and be stronger than they were was very nice."
Especially for the driver, who has only two wins — his first was at Belle Isle, Mich. in August 2008 — in 41 IndyCar Series starts.
"It was a sense of relief," said Wilson, who will start sixth in Sunday's Camping World Grand Prix as he prepares to defend his title at the storied road course. "It meant a lot to me to get his (Coyne's) first victory. That was part of it that made the whole thing special."
Just shy of turning 32, Wilson, a native of Sheffield, England, is something of an anomaly, and not because he's the tallest driver in the series at nearly 6-foot-4.
Wilson won his Formula Vauxhall Junior debut with JLR Racing in the early 1990s, becoming the first 16-year-old to win a British auto race. In 2001, he became the first British driver to win the FIA International F3000 championship, breaking the record for most points in a season (71) and podium finishes (10), and beating the second-place driver by a record 36 points.
Two years later, he landed a ride with Minardi in Formula 1 by forming a company called Justin Wilson PLC and selling 900 shares of himself to investors to raise $2 million to fund his racing career.
"There will be a few dollars for people in it at the end of the term (of the company in 2012)," said Stephen King, a British health consultant and one of those investors. "I think if they get their money back, then that's probably a good deal.
"But it's not about making money," King said. "It's about involvement, helping a guy who still is the only British driver to win the F3000 championship who obviously was worth a position higher up in the sport, but because of the circumstances just couldn't get it."
Wilson drove the final five F1 races of 2003 for Jaguar before its parent company, Ford, said drivers would have to produce $6 million in funding for the next season.
Wilson then jumped to Champ Car and produced four wins and 29 top-fives in five seasons before the series merged with IndyCar. He's still searching for that perfect ride, having left Coyne after last season and hooked up with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in another one-year deal.
"Switching teams every year has been hard," said Wilson, who lives in Colorado with his wife, Julia, and their two infant daughters. "On top of that, you're learning a new car. It's hard for everyone to make that transition and compete. We're there on some of the races. It's a small setback, but I wouldn't change a thing.
"I'd love to be with one of those top teams. It certainly isn't going to be easy," Wilson said. "Ideally, you're picked up by one of those teams, but I don't see one of those seats opening up. They're doing a great job. I'm pretty happy here at Dreyer & Reinbold."
So, too, is his boss, who hasn't won a race in a decade and is confident Wilson can duplicate his feat from a year ago.
"He's been great to work with. We're very fortunate to have Justin," Dennis Reinbold said. "He's been a rock for our team. He's been somebody we've been able to accelerate and improve our setups."
Helio Castroneves, who has started on the pole three times at The Glen and has yet to win, marvels at what Wilson has accomplished.
"If he would end up with a very good team, he would be one of the guys up there almost every race," Castroneves said. "It's unfortunate to be in this situation. We have three teams right now (Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti Autosport) capable of winning and being competitive. Wilson doing that last year just shows it's a lot from him as well."
"I feel I haven't reached a peak yet. I feel I've still got a lot to prove," Wilson said. "I've accomplished a lot in my career, but there's a lot more I want to achieve. I want to win the championship here. That's my main goal."