The Golden Gate Bridge is one of man’s most impressive structures, built against the harsh winds and often-chilly climate of San Francisco’s “Golden Gate” — the entrance to the Pacific Ocean. It was constructed by hardworking members of “The Greatest Generation” during the Great Depression and endures as one of San Francisco’s most iconic symbols.
U.S. Highway 101 crosses the Golden Gate Bridge and is often congested with traffic. For a brief moment on Thursday, however, traffic on the northbound lane ceased and passengers in the southbound lane saw a sight that likely blew them away.
A formation of cars from the Verizon IndyCar Series drove across the bridge, a parade originally created to promote this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series championship finale: the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. On Thursday, it became one of many memorials to Justin Wilson, the 37-year-old driver from Great Britain who died Monday, a day after he was struck by debris from Sage Karam’s crashed race car in Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.
Also on Thursday, Andretti Autosport, Wilson’s team and owner of Wilson’s No. 25 car, announced that Oriol Servia will drive the 25 car in Sunday’s season-ending race at Sonoma Raceway, and American Honda Motor Company, Inc., and Honda Performance Development announced a contribution to the Wilson Children’s Fund based on laps completed by all Honda entries in the race. The fund was established this week to benefit the surviving daughters of Wilson and his wife, Julia.
As for the Bridge tribute, Wilson’s Car No. 25 was added to IndyCar’s lap over the bridge and it was driven by his teammate, Marco Andretti. Traveling behind Andretti were three of the six drivers still in contention for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship, including Graham Rahal, defending IndyCar champion Will Power and Josef Newgarden.
James Hinchcliffe, who suffered near-fatal injuries in a crash at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 18, drove the Honda IndyCar “Two Seater” with the Astor Challenge Cup, the IndyCar Series championship Trophy, in the second seat.
The formation concluded with two Holmatro Safety Vehicles flying two large flags featuring Wilson’s helmet and the inscription “JWBADASS” as a tribute to the fierce racer who was beloved by his fellow competitors and fans.
“It’s hard to ever move on from something like that,” Andretti said. “It won’t fully hit me until after the season is over and we drop our focus. When Dan Wheldon was killed (in Las Vegas in 2011) it was the last race of the season. This one, we have all felt it but we have tried to stay busy thinking about this race. We are trying to remember Justin and celebrate his life. I got together with some fellow drivers at my house on Sunday night and it was good for us to all get together.”
Andretti had exited last Sunday’s race after he crashed and was standing in teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay’s pit area watching on a monitor when Wilson’s fatal crash occurred.
“I saw him come to a halt and saw his head and I threw my headphones because I knew it was really bad,” Andretti said. “I didn’t know it was fatal right away but I knew it was bad.”
Wilson’s approach to life was genuine and he led by example.
“It’s really admirable to see how he interacted with everybody,” Andretti said. “He had time for everybody. He was so genuine. There is really not enough good I could say about Justin Wilson.
“Justin would want us to be focused on the task at hand and try to go out and win the race.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series competitors get back to racing on Friday with nearly four hours of practice on the demanding Sonoma Raceway road course. And there is a championship to be decided on Sunday as Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya leads Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal by 34 points in a race that will pay double points.
Rahal and Wilson were teammates at Newman Haas Lanigan Racing in 2008.
“It’s a tough week for everybody,” Rahal said. “I just focus on doing what we have to this weekend to try to win a championship. Losing Justin is a big hit for everybody.
“I’m going to go out there and try to win a championship for him.”