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A ‘Relieved’ Stefan Wilson Sets Focus on 106th Indianapolis 500

Stefan Wilson, younger brother of Justin Wilson, will compete in the 106th Indianapolis 500 (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

The 106th Indianapolis 500 will have 33 cars entered this month with race veteran Stefan Wilson piloting the No. 25 DragonSpeed/Cusick Motorsports Chevrolet.

For a good period of time, the entry list was stalled at 32 which put the traditional 33-car grid under a microscope. The last time the 500 had less than 33 cars was in 1947 when it had 30 and will avoid being the first 500 since 1997 that didn’t have 33 when the field expanded to 35.

That won’t be a concern following Thursday’s announcement that both DragonSpeed and Cusick Motorsports joined forces to enter Wilson at Indy. It’ll be Wilson’s second 500 working with team owner and entrepreneur Don Cusick, driving an Andretti Autosport Honda where a pit lane accident ended Wilson’s race after 32 laps and finished last.

There was plenty of relief from the younger brother of Justin Wilson, who’ll now focus on making sure his fifth 500 is his best one yet.

A look at Stefan Wilson’s 2022 Indy 500 livery (Photo: DragonSpeed/Cusick Motorsports).

“It’s really an exciting day. But then trying to put that behind us and focus and get down to work, get down to business,” said Wilson. “We don’t have a lot of time to really revel in this. We’ve got to make sure of what we have to make sure that when we arrive at the speedway we are clicking and ready to go and ready to do some business.”

Since last year’s early exit, Wilson and Cusick have worked together with Hardpoint’s GTD Porsche program. The 32-year-old is competing in the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races where the No. 99 Porsche finished eighth in class at Sebring.

For DragonSpeed, it’ll be their first 500 since August 2020 when Ben Hanley made the daunting trip from Spa-Francorchamps to Indianapolis during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hanley finished 23rd, two laps behind race winner Takuma Sato.

Cusick explained in the video conference that collaborating with DragonSpeed owner Elton Julian had an “unusual kind of fun” tale. Rather than meeting each other at an INDYCAR event, it happened at a NASCAR establishment.

“We’ve been trying for, I think, since the day after last year to get back to the 500, lots of twists and turns and bumps in the road. But another one of those Thermal stories where Elton saw one of my Track Attack NASCARs that we race out there, saw my name on it, got a hold of me. We met that very afternoon, talked through a few things, and just hit it off,” Cusick explained.

“Once I knew that we could get Elton on board, everything kind of changed from there. Anders (Krohn), Stefan, Elton, just about everybody got together with Jay Frye, who I want to thank for his help in this effort, and we put it together in kind of record time.”

Before the global pandemic, Julian had ambitions of expanding his team into INDYCAR on a regular basis. Hanley had driven the No. 81 Chevrolet four times with three of them coming in 2019.

Since 2020, DragonSpeed have not appeared on an INDYCAR grid. The team sold its assets to Meyer Shank Racing with the car being raced by Helio Castroneves last May. Such car ended up winning the 500, giving Castroneves its fourth Indy triumph.

The former DragonSpeed car in victory lane last May with Meyer Shank Racing’s Helio Castroneves (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

Despite the pandemic crushing Julian’s INDYCAR vision, it hasn’t waned is passion because the announcement puts them a year ahead than he expected to return.

“Obviously Indy has been a passion of mine when I was a driver, as a team owner now, it’s firmly a target that I’ve always wanted to get to. We made strides in that direction and got killed during the lockdowns,” said Julian.

“We couldn’t hold on to the INDYCAR side of things, and it was disappointing. A large part of call it excitement is the fact that we’re coming back basically a year earlier than I had hoped.

“We shifted a lot of our focus back to the States this year, racing full-time in the States, but in the back of my mind was always ’23. Even if it’s just the 500, but I can start preparing properly was always the mission.

“I wasn’t thinking too much about it this year. Heard all the rumblings about I would but I can’t, or I would but I can’t, so I just put my hand up and said, well, we’ll do it. If personnel and the will and just having the fortitude to say yes and go for it, knowing that we have the quality, of course, it took some traction, and Jay instantly put us together with Stefan,” Julian continued.

“At the beginning there was kind of more like how can I help another team type of thing, but never expecting that this would come to the door. The fact that (Don and I) hit it off basically instantly and realized that there were so many things that aligned and what their troubles were and what I was missing, both on just straight-up backing but also the strength they have with Anders commercially and basically their whole package that they have but one thing, which is what we are.

“I’m excited. I think for now, and like everybody says, for whatever is ahead, but what’s ahead right now is the 500. That’s what we’re focused on,” Julian concluded.

Cusick added that he hopes this year’s announcement will be the final time a plan comes into fruition on the 11th hour.

“We kind of have a propensity for this last-minute stuff at the 500, but we’re thinking that this new collaboration, hopefully we get a plan together for 2023 and quit this 11th hour stuff,” said Cusick.

The Cusick Motorsports machine during Carb Day last May (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

On top of the announcement, the car and equipment will come from AJ Foyt Racing. It’ll allow Wilson to work with Foyt drivers J.R. Hildebrand and Dalton Kellett, as well as rookie Kyle Kirkwood.

Wilson explained working with DragonSpeed and Foyt will have its own unique challenge. Fortunately for the British racer, he won’t have a hard time blending in.

“I’m good friends with J.R. I’ve known Dalton for years. I know Kyle a little bit, too. So I think from that standpoint, the driving talent at Foyt is really awesome and I’m excited to work with those guys,” Wilson on the AJ Foyt Racing trio.

“Then on the engineering side, it’s going to be building that relationship with my engineer and trying to build that fast and have him understand what I’d like to get out of the car, what I like the setup direction or how that translates to the Foyt setup.

That’s going to be the big challenge, and then it’s going to be expectations, as well. We’re going to have to see on that first day how everything is and then build from there. But I think we’re all pulling in the same direction.”

Wilson continued by saying he hopes how Indy 500 opening practice (Tuesday, May 17) goes doesn’t end there. He wants the No. 25 squad to build tremendous progress throughout the “Month of May” where they’re competitive and not a car that’ll ride around.

One thing that’ll be tough for Wilson is not having much time in the Chevrolet simulator. It hasn’t been discussed, but if something can be established next week, he’ll be there. This year’s 500 will be the first time he’ll run for the Bowtie Brigade since 2016 when he drove for KV Racing Technology.

“I don’t think there’s going to be enough time,” said Wilson. “I think there’s probably other Chevy drivers that are competing in the GP that will probably be using it to be honest.”

Wilson looking on before strapping into the car during Fast Friday (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

For now, the most important thing is establishing a strong relationship with his engineers. Those being DragonSpeed’s technical director Will Phillips and performance engineer Leon Gutfreud.

“The most important thing to me is just getting to spend time with my engineer, Will, and Leon, and just start building that relationship,” Wilson commented.

“The chemistry between the driver and the engineer is probably the most important piece of the whole puzzle. That needs to be in sync. We need to know what each of us want and how we even say things and explain things is going to be an important part of how we move and progress through the whole setup forward and get to a place where we want it.

“I’ve had that comfortability in the past, having the same engineer in the last two Indy 500s. That’s something I need to build fast, and that’s going to be the goal the next week over Zoom and other telecommunications, just getting that group of guys together and getting familiar with each other.”

Wilson’s best 500 finish was 15th in 2018 where he led three laps before having to pit for fuel coming with five laps remaining.

Live coverage of the 106th Indy 500 begins Sunday, May 29 at 11:00 a.m. ET on NBC.

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR, INDYCAR and ARCA. Content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going. I've dealt with several challenges in my life, such as autism and making most out of trips despite relying on transportation. Even my quest of finding acceptance in my profession which has been my biggest challenge since graduating from college in 2016. Despite those hurdles with Motorsports Tribune and now The Podium Finish, I promise that you'll see excellence with my content. With two National Motorsports Press Association photography awards, I'm not slowing down anytime soon. Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to The Aces. Not only that, expect my social media filled with references nobody will understand, especially Licorice Pizza.

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