By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
TORONTO — Robert Wickens will drive a parade lap in front of the entire NTT IndyCar Series field before Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto in a specially prepared Acura NSX with hand controls.
Although if Wickens has his way, that might last a little bit longer.
“I’m trying to figure out what that penalty would be if I just kept going,” said Wickens.
Nobody would fault the Guelph, Ontario native for staying out an extra lap or two. Wickens was paralyzed after an incident last August in Pocono and has been doing constant rehabilitation to not only dance at his wedding with his fiancée Karli but to eventually race again.
Wickens had about an hour and a half with the car at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on Wednesday before coming to Toronto where he was able to get used to driving the NSX with a ring on the steering wheel operating the throttle.
“I got strapped in, pushed the ring throttle for the first time and the car started creeping away,” said Wickens. “Then I just went full throttle just to kind of see what it would do. Honestly, the car is so good that that was kind of a moment where I’m like, yeah, I miss that, and that was one of those situations, because the thing is, once you’ve driven an Indy car in anger for a while, it’s hard to get excited by a road car.”
The car has a handbrake on the right side that Wickens uses to slow the car down but with this being phase one of the Arrow Electronics innovations, there is still more to come for this program.
“Originally in my head when I’ve been thinking about this for hours and hours and hours at night while I was in rehab was I figured out how to throttle on the one side, brake on another side,” said Wickens. “It was very important to me that my hands can’t leave the steering wheel in order to drive an NTT IndyCar because the steering wheel and everything without having power steering in this championship.
“So I was always thinking I’d have brake on one side, throttle on the other, and once I got on track, I quickly realized that I need to be able to access throttle with both hands and access brake with both hands because if you’re turning right into a corner and especially in the tight cockpit of an IndyCar, your bottom hand is pretty handcuffed. You don’t have that much availability to grab throttle or grab brake if you need to, so you have to use the hand on the top. So I was constantly switching between left and right hand when I was driving around.”
The response from the motorsports community to Wickens driving has been tremendous. INDYCAR actually updated their spotter’s guide for the race, putting Wickens and his Acura NSX between Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson with the message “Enjoy your parade lap Wickens!” on the bottom.
“I wasn’t expecting that one, and actually this event, especially being our home race, is always so crazy that I personally missed it on Twitter,” said Wickens. “It wasn’t until the team kind of sent me the link and I looked at it, and then I was like, yeah, that spotter guide. I don’t get — why are they sending me the spotter guide, and then I kind of looked through it and I saw our NSX there, car No. 6, and it was really cool, and I think the message at the bottom, enjoy the parade lap, Wickens. Yeah, that was a nice touch.”