By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — Robert Wickens has been the rookie to beat in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series. The Canadian put his car on pole at the season-opener in St. Petersburg and qualified second for Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix only behind Will Power.
The No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports qualified on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with a lap of 1 minute, 9.9052 seconds for an average speed of 125.604 mph. Teammate James Hinchcliffe qualified fourth.
“I’m a bit gutted with P2,” said Wickens. “We’re obviously in the front row, but when you lead the whole qualifying, you want to finish like that. It was close. I ended up losing a few hundredths (of a second) in the end, but I can see why – it wasn’t the tidiest lap.
“You have to do the perfect job to get the pole here, but I’m happy to be back in the Fast Six; the last time we made it was in St. Pete. Tomorrow’s a whole new can of worms – let’s go play.”
Wickens raced on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course back in 2006 in Formula BMW but the course was under a different configuration.
“Turn 1 is tighter with our configuration,” said Wickens. “Turn 2 is the same, Turn 4 is the same but then we used to kind of go down and do like a long left so the chicane is new. Turn 7 is tighter than what it was when I ran here and then we had some really tight hairpins. It’s actually quite a bit different if you think about it but the track suited me back then, apparently it still suits me now.”
Wickens is driving with a bit of a handicap this weekend. He’s the only driver in the field that hasn’t driven the current road course configuration before this weekend. He had an opportunity to at the test back in March but an injury sidelined him from that test. Although Wickens was behind in terms of track time, he didn’t need much time to get caught up.
“We basically talked to the driver coach and spoke with James and he gave me his references,” said Wickens. “I just basically started there. It was actually surprisingly pretty fast getting up to speed but the big thing is like we’ve been talking about so much here within our team.
“I think our working relationship is so good that I asked James, I go, ‘Where are you braking in Turn 1,’ and he was like, ‘I think we were 350 (feet) at that test,’ so okay, so my first lap I broke at 350 and it worked, and then you’re kind of like there, right from the get-go. I didn’t have to creep up to anything.”