By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
TORONTO — Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Robert Wickens has had a season to remember so far in 2018. Scoring a podium finish in his home country’s race only added to that as the No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda crossed the finish line third in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto on the streets near Exhibition Place.
Wickens started tenth alongside fellow Canadian and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate James Hinchcliffe and moved to eighth on the start after passing Hinchcliffe and Jordan King. Wickens was one of the earliest drivers to pit and the yellow for Ryan Hunter-Reay’s stalled car on Lap 28 played into his hands as the 2018 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year found himself in fifth place.
However, after leader Josef Newgarden brushed the wall on the Lap 33 restart, Wickens took advantage of the resulting stack-up and got around Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Takuma Sato to move into second position. Wickens would spend the next 20 laps in second before Pagenaud got out of the pits ahead of Wickens during the last round of pit stops and that would relegate Wickens to a third place finish just ahead of Hinchcliffe.
Wickens was happy for his team but knew how high up he could realistically finish.
“We did have a great car in the race,” said Wickens. “I don’t think anyone had anything for Scott (Dixon) today. Dixie was kind of in a class of his own, but to go punch for punch with him in the second stint…I thought we really showed some great strides, some great improvements on the Lucas Oil car from warmup to now.
“The final stint, I don’t if it was damage from the fight with (Simon) Pagenaud, but I had too much understeer and I couldn’t maintain that pace. If not, I think it would have been a fun fight between Simon and I at the end. I thought maybe second (place finish) was in the cards for me, but it just wasn’t meant to be.”
The big moment for Wickens came after Pagenaud’s last stop. The pair diced heading to Turn 3 and at the exit of the corner, Pagenaud surged ahead after cutting Wickens off heading to Turn 4.
“It was kind of a dogfight straight up at turn three,” said Wickens. “I broke as late as I could, probably the latest through the entire race. Give credit when it’s due, Simon was able to match it on cold tires. Hats off to him.
“Then it was just good, hard racing. I was ultimately maybe hoping for a little bit more space on the exit. When the guy is on cold tires, you can only expect so much because he’s trying to get as much grip as he can.”
“I think it’s IndyCar racing,” said Pagenaud. “It’s hard racing on the streets of Toronto. Two cars that are battling for the same real estate. I’m coming out on cold tires in a position advantage. Robert tried, he had to go into turn one as deep as he could. I really thought I was actually going to crash in turn one after we had contact.
“It’s my job to keep my position and try as hard as I can. Obviously it’s not about running each other into the walls or crashing together. The key is to just be on the limit of that.
“Certainly was on the limit, but two very professional racers in my opinion that just raced really hard. That’s what IndyCar is about.”
The next Verizon IndyCar Series race is the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 29th.