Special talent marks Sheffield ace out as a future Grand Prix star

IT all began when he was eight and his dad took him to a go-kart meeting.

Now Justin Wilson is a 22-year-old who is pressing to become Sheffield’s answer to his boyhood hero, Nigel Mansell.

Wilson is the championship leader in motor racing's junior category, Formula 3000.

Coming up is a big chance for him to shine at Silverstone on the weekend of the British Grand Prix, when he races in the next round of the F3000 title chase a week tomorrow as a curtain-raiser to the main event.

Wilson has led all season since winning the opener in Brazil, but it could be close, for he is now only one point ahead and there are five races left.

Win or lose in the championship, he has already marked himself as a potential Formula One driver - an impressive feat for the former Birkdale School pupil who was bitten by the racing bug after finding that go-karts were fun.

“It all carried from there. I started racing cars when I was 16, and gradually worked my way up,” he said.

Businessman father Keith - “he was a good Formula Ford driver” - has been an inspiration.

Justin won the Formula Palmer Audi Championship in 1998, then made a successful move into Formula 3000 with Astromega and emerged as one of the best newcomers.

A switch to Norfolk-based Coca-Cola Nordic Racing coincided with an upsurge in the team's performance.

Nordic’s team director and engineer Chris Mower appreciates Wilson’s talent and other qualities.

"He is a professional race-driver, who doesn't complain or get angry unless he has to. He is able to feel the car and has a good memory, which is essential for me. His teammate can sometimes be quicker but Justin will analyse the situation by looking at the data and solving the problem. Overall, he’s an ideal race-driver to work with."

Wilson finished second in the last race, in France, by forcing his way past teammate Tomas Enge just half a lap from the finish. The winner, Australia's Mark Webber, is now only a point behind the Sheffield manin the standings.

All three of them have a realistic chance of a Formula One test. The jump from Formula 3000 into the top category is well-known to Nordic Racing team boss Derek Mower, who has worked with Grand Prix legends such as Jim Clark and Graham Hill.

"Justin is a great guy to work with and exceptional of the current Formula 3000 drivers,” he says. “He is definitely worthy of a Formula One test."

These sentiments are echoed by Justin's manager, Jonathan Palmer, ex-Williams Grand Prix driver and owner of the PalmerSport track in Northampton. Palmer explains that Justin's current success is down to “huge talent, inate judgement of speed and balance”.

“He also has the benefit of his father, who - unlike some infamous fathers who put too much pressure on their children to perform - is a great support,” he said.

“When it comes to overtaking, Justin is the best in the formula.

“Like Michael Schumacher, he comes into that rare group which requires special confidence and ability."

For someone who spends his working life in such a fast-moving environment, relaxation is vital.

“ I enjoy watching football such as the European or World Cup,” said Wilson, “ but don’t have any favourite team, so at least I won’t annoy any United or Wednesday supporters! For music, Travis is currently a favourite and I also enjoy using my go-kart, which keeps me fit.”

Justin comes from Woodall - the village near the MI service station - and was born and bred in the Sheffield area but moved to Northampton six weeks ago.

“ Training is necessary and I do about two to three hours a day,” he said. “I use the local gym in Northampton, which is close to the PalmerSport track where I instruct corporate guests, and my girlfriend is a team leader.”

Looking forward to Silverstone, he said: “Hopefully my chances of winning the championship are good. It’s very difficult, I know, but I have led all year so it would be a shame to lose it now.”