A roller coaster weekend ended in victory for Justin Wilson at Champ Car’s Netherlands Grand Prix – but even without the win he’d have judged the event a success.
The CDW/RuSPORT driver set provisional pole in the rain on Friday, struggled for pace in Saturday’s final qualifying, and lost almost the whole of Sunday’s warm-up session to a gearbox problem before going on to score his first win of the season and move up to second in the championship.
And he had an appreciative audience of 61,000 Dutch race fans to watch his victory at the TT Circuit Assen: “The crowd seemed as good, if not better, than any Formula 1 race I’ve been to,” he said.
“I was saying to the guys in the garage before the race that the circuit is 2.8 miles long and the banking all around the track was full of fans. The promoters for these two events have done a great job – it’s been fantastic to come back to Europe.”
The team credited the win to “great strategy, flawless pit work and a fine drive from Justin”. During the morning warm up before the race, Wilson had made only one lap around the circuit when an oil line ruptured, causing a loss of oil pressure in the gearbox and filling the underfloor of the car with oil.
“I was quite frustrated not being able to run the morning session,” he said. “We were so far off the pace on Saturday and we made heaps of changes to the car overnight and were planning to use the warm up session to be sure we went the right direction on the changes.
“Once we found out what the problem was, it only took a few minutes to change the oil line, but the entire bottom of the car was floating in gearbox fluid and cleaning up that mess consumed the entire session.”
Despite having had no running time to confirm the changes made to the car, Wilson and his team decided to press ahead with the race.
Starting second on the grid beside polesitter Sebastien Bourdais, he snatched the lead at Turn 1 and was able to keep it when the Frenchman’s pit lane limiter went off instead of his ‘power to pass’ overtake button. Afterwards, his main rivals were an unexpected pairing – Bruno Junqueira of Dale Coyne Racing and Jan Haylen of Conquest Racing.
Junqueira and Wilson played cat and mouse through different pit strategies, the Brazilian hoping to improve on his second place in the previous race – his team’s best-ever result. Haylen, who suffered a poor day at his home race in Belgium the week before, threatened Wilson on the track, relentlessly hounding him for most of the 69 laps.
Wilson said it was tough keeping ahead of Haylen: “I did see Jan was quick. He was quick where I was weak. We got the top end gears slightly wrong. I was hitting the regulator coming into turn 15 and I could see Jan was very quick all the way through 15 to the last chicane. We had our work cut out making sure I didn’t hit the limit to hard and kill the speed. So each lap was very inconsistent.”
In the end, Haylen took second for his first-ever podium finish and Junqueira settled for third. Fellow championship contenders Robert Doornbos and Will Power finished 13th and 14th respectively and current points leader, Sebastien Bourdais finished the race in an uncharacteristic seventh position, allowing Wilson to leapfrog from fourth in the Champ Car Vanderbilt Cup standings to second with two races remaining.
“It’s a great result for the #9/CDW/RuSPORT team”, said Wilson. “I’ve got to thank the whole team – they’ve done brilliantly and they deserve this win so much. The pit-stops were fantastic and my engineer, Mike Talbott, did a great job working out a set-up for the car with no running in the warm-up. It’s nice to get the win for CDW and to do it in front of our partner guests here from Plantronics Europe.”
Dan Pettit, RuSPORT Team Owner, added: “We were a bit worried not running in the morning session, but Justin had a great car and the #9/CDW team did a spectacular job in the pits, executing flawless stops every time. This win has been a long time coming and very well deserved for Justin, CDW, all our partners and especially for the team who have worked so hard all year.”