By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
Motorsports Tribune reviews the season of the top 12 drivers from the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Our list continues with the 11th-place finisher, Robert Wickens.
Robert Wickens, No. 6 LUCAS OIL Honda
- 2018: 11th in the championship
- Wins: 0, Top 5: 7, Top 10: 10, Poles: 1, Laps Led: 187
- Best Finish: 2nd (Phoenix, Mid-Ohio)
It’s hard to imagine a more dynamic, more attention-deserving and more awe-inspiring winless rookie season in Indy car racing of the past decade than the one Robert Wickens had in 2018.
The Canadian nearly won his first race at St. Petersburg, but was involved in racing incident late while leading. He also nearly won at Phoenix – his first-ever start on an oval. There was also a stout run at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course where he led before finishing third, followed by a runner-up finish in mid-summer at Mid-Ohio to Alexander Rossi.
But unfortunately, most of the attention that went to the No. 6 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda came after an accident at Pocono Raceway that could only be summed up as absolutely frightening.
After contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Wickens’s car went into the catch fencing and spun around like a top, eventually coming down to the track.
His injuries are too numerous to mention and rehabilitation will take a long time, but that shouldn’t be the lasting memory of a season spent mostly in the limelight compared to his more experienced teammate – James Hinchcliffe.
Wickens started the year at St. Petersburg claiming the pole position in his first IndyCar race. The only drivers to do that before him? Sebastien Bourdais and Nigel Mansell. Wickens was leading on a late race restart when Rossi made a daring pass attempt on the inside at Turn 1 on the penultimate lap. Rossi lost control of his car on the painted lines on the airport runway front straightaway and steered into Wickens’s car, forcing him to spin into the wall and drawing the ire of many IndyCar fans.
Wickens wasn’t too pleased about what happened, but nearly redeemed himself at ISM Raceway with a late-race lead before Josef Newgarden got around him with much newer tires with a few laps to go.
The chrome-red car spent enough time up front where Wickens was mentioned numerous times on each broadcast and he even recorded a Dinner With Racers episode during the Month of May.
Wickens then went on a tear with an impressive run of four top-five finishes in-a-row starting with a fifth at Road America. However, there were frustrations during that span, including a tough one at Iowa Speedway.
With a late race caution, Wickens pitted for tires with Newgarden and others as they were expecting the race to go back to green. When the pace car stayed out for the white flag lap, Wickens went from a sure podium to instead finishing fifth. Of course, having teammate and best friend Hinchcliffe win that race was the icing on the cake.
After that disappointment, the Canadian duo finished third and fourth at Toronto with Wickens on the podium ahead of Hinchcliffe in a wildly popular result.
Wickens continued to impress in July and his drive at Mid-Ohio to second place was the best anybody could do against Rossi’s dominance there.
But for all the good, it came to a screeching halt at Pocono Raceway after his incident with Hunter-Reay.
Wickens will spend quite a bit of time in therapy to recuperate from his injuries. He has the support of team owner Sam Schmidt and Hinchcliffe, especially important given that Schmidt is a quadriplegic and Hinchcliffe had a bad accident of his own during practice for the 2015 Indianapolis 500.
But maybe more important than that, Wickens has had more love thrown his way from the motorsports community than he might ever have imagined. After a season as impressive as his, It’s hard to imagine a more popular driver in the IndyCar paddock.
All that’s left to do is get back in the car and win.