By Josh Farmer, Contributing Writer
LONG BEACH, California — Robert Wickens is off to a fast start to his Verizon IndyCar Series career.
The first two Verizon IndyCar Series races for the 29-year-old Canadian show the talent he possesses. He had a near win in the bag at St. Petersburg, but collided with Alexander Rossi on a restart with two laps to go and had to settle for 18th.
He followed that up with an impressive run at the ISM Raceway, leading 44 laps before being passed late by Josef Newgarden.
Even more extraordinary is that the driver of the No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has led 113 laps – more than any other driver.
Heading into this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Wickens noted that the first two races have exceeded his expectations.
“I was hoping to be competitive or at least running for top 10s early on in the season and working to make those into top fives and then try to get those into podiums and then by the end of the year challenging for wins,” he said.
“To be right out the gate and fighting for podiums straight away is phenomenal.”
Bolstering his confidence are the wholesale changes that SPM made in the offseason, including the hiring of Todd Malloy, formerly of Chip Ganassi Racing, as the technical director.
“I think they showed that we are not here to running where they have been. We want to make changes and move forward. I think they want to start a dynasty they want to start a legacy. 10 years from now, they want to be looked back on as we look at Ganassi or Penske right now.”
Wickens acknowledged that in order to contend for a championship, he must remain humble and take each race as it comes.
“We are going to have our off weekends but I’m trying to maximize the points that we can when the car is good and we’re going to have to do damage limitation when we struggle a little bit. I think that is what is going to put us in the mix at the end.”
Unlike ISM Raceway and the Streets of St. Petersburg, Wickens has raced at the Streets of Long Beach before. He finished third driving for Forsythe Racing in the Formula Atlantic Championship in 2007. Given the 11-year gap in racing at Long Beach and many forms of racing in between, Wickens is treating it like any other race.
“I’m treating every IndyCar race as my first one. Yes, I’ve driven here but it was over a decade ago in a car that was signifigantly slower and I’ve done so many races in my life since then and I barely remember it.
“I know the track layout of course, but every little detail, the bumps, I’m sure the surface has been changed or altered in the last 11 years. I’m not really thinking I have experience here, I’m treating it like I have for the other two.”