6 February 2019- In the opening round of the 2019 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge championship at Daytona International Speedway, there was a fierce battle between old and new. The old drivers (57) Kris Wilson and (57) Gary Ferrera in the aging No. 99 Stoner Car Care Aston Martin GT4 (2012) went up against the new McLaren GT4 machines with young up and coming factory drivers in a battle that went down to the wire.
Having seen a lot of races in his day, Wilson declared it to be an instant classic.
In the end it was youth that prevailed but not without a fight from the old. It came down to a late race restart with 10 minutes to go that decided the outcome.
The Stoner Car Care Automatic Racing Aston Martin team had good strategy that had Wilson in the lead with just 40 minutes of the four hour race to go. Track position is always King in racing but with a track like Daytona, leading is not necessarily the desired position on a restart. At the checkered flag, it was McLaren P1 and the Aston Martin P2, crossing the stripe ahead of another McLaren just .007-seconds back.
“It was a great race for us, we did much better than we expected with the old bird,” quipped Wilson. “The Automatic Racing team did a great job with strategy to put us out front. Unfortunately that meant on our last pitstop we did a fuel only stop that made us a sitting duck on old tires at the end but this old dog still has a few tricks.”
Wilson has made a career out of driving race cars and coaching/instructing for over 30 years. He started his racing career as a mechanic on the Jim Busby Racing BFGoodrich Porsche 962 team back in the heyday of the IMSA GTP cars in the mid 80’s.
An unlikely career path, Wilson graduated from Colorado State University and moved to Los Angeles to take a job with a commercial real estate developer.
“After a couple of months on the job my boss gave me tickets to the Long Beach Grand Prix and I didn’t go back to work!” Wilson explained. “That was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I walked around the pits and asked all the teams how I could do what they were doing. At the end of the weekend I had two IndyCar teams asking me to move to Indy to go to work for them and one IMSA team based in Laguna Beach (Busby). No brainer!!”
The GTP cars were doing demonstration laps that weekend to promote IMSA.
“I had a background in automotive and a CDL license to drive the transporter so it wasn’t that much of a stretch to make the transition,” said Wilson. “I worked for the team throughout the year but wasn’t satisfied to stay in the pits. Guys like Darren Brassfield, John Morton, Jochen Mass, and Jim Busby were all driving at that point. I was bugging them all the time to tell me how I could become a driver. I remember at one point that the team manager Mike Colluci called me in his office and told me that I would never be a driver. He probably heard that I was bugging the drivers. Darren (Brassfield) finally told me that I had to go to racing school to learn so he hooked me up with the people at the Jim Russell Racing School at Riverside Raceway.”
The school had a program called the Mechanics Training Program that allowed entrants to work on the racecars to pay for racing. Wilson lived at the race track in a travel trailer and worked for free to race, eventually working into a position to get paid for instructing schools, and he has been instructing racing schools ever since—and racing.
Wilson has wheeled everything from Formula cars to GT and LMP1 cars throughout the years.
While he had long hoped to make it to IndyCar, Wilson was smart to focus on what got him into the sport—working as a coach with capable co-drivers in IMSA.
“I have been fortunate to have had some great Gentlemen drivers that have kept me as a coach and co-driver racing with them over the years,” said Wilson. “I feel that at my age I have more in common with these drivers. My current teammate Gary Ferrera is the CFO of a public company so he is a classic example of a gentleman driver-working hard during the week to get to go out and have some fun at the track on weekends. Unfortunately because of his work schedule, that means that he is going to be missing the next few races. Hopefully we can find a replacement for him until he gets back! I know the Automatic Racing team is trying hard to fill the gap to keep our momentum.”
The IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge from Daytona airs on NBCSN Thursday February 6th at 1:00PM EST.