This article first appeared in the 12th December issue of Autosport magazine
The Interlagos ITC race in 1996 was the most important race of my life and a real crossroads in my career. It dictated how things would take shape over the next few years, culminating in me almost making my F1 debut in 2000.
Back in ’96 I was having a tough time in German F3 and had to change teams after a few races. I ended up with Italian team Prema and I flew from Italy to Germany many times to compete in the series. It was a boring flight, but one of them ended up being important. I got talking to a Brembo technician on one flight after I had won a race at Diepholz. He told me, through his contacts at Alfa Romeo, that their boss, Giorgio Pianta, was looking for a driver to compete in the Interlagos round in October. My ears pricked up! Especially when he explained they had to be Brazilian.
Just a few days later I was at Mugello testing the JAS Motorsport Alfa 155, with Pianta studying my every move.
I got the drive and it was a welcome lucky break for me because I couldn’t even afford to complete the F3 season. So I arrived at Interlagos, my home track, in a car I barely knew, realising this race might just relaunch my career.
There were two ITC races over the weekend. I finished the first one in ninth place, which against that quality of field seemed to be a solid start. It was a fully dry race and because JAS was a satellite team of the main works Alfa Romeo squad, we were about 12 months behind on development and were just not quick enough. But for the second event it was wet and there is nothing better for levelling the field.
As soon as the race started I could feel the car was really good and I knew the best lines from my Formula Chevrolet and SudAm F3 days. After four laps I was in the lead and I started to pull away. Then it started to dry and Nicola Larini in the works Alfa caught me. He was right on my tail with a few laps to go and I got a message on the radio, ‘Scusi Max, remember that Nicola is the works driver and quicker than you now! Do not fight too hard!’
That was tough to take on my home track but I had no option but to let him through. Second place was still a great result and because of my performance I clinched some deals and went back to Europe with a full season of F3000 for 1997.
I did three seasons and was then offered the Minardi F1 seat for 2000. At the last minute Gaston Mazzacane turned up with a sack of money. I don’t have any bitterness about it – that day at Interlagos changed things for me and I carved out my career in motorsport, which has been a wonderful experience and one that I still enjoy to this day.
About Max Wilson
German-born Brazilian Max Wilson was runner-up in the 1995 SudAm F3 series before a move to Europe and German F3 for ’96. He then dovetailed a F3000 career with Williams, Minardi and Michelin F1 testing duties before moving to Champ Car in 2001.
A switch to Aussie V8s in 2002 preceded a return to Brazil in V8 Stock Car racing, where he was crowned champion in 2010.