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- Canadian racing driver
Nearly three and a half years after an IndyCar crash left him unable to walk, Robert Wickens will return to racing this month — joining the championship Hyundai team of Bryan Herta Autosport.
Wickens will team with fellow Canadian Mark Wilkins in the No. 33 Elantra N TCR full time in the 2022 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season, starting at Daytona International Speedway with a Jan. 28 race that will be streamed on Peacock.
For accelerating and braking without the use of foot pedals, Wickens will be driving a custom hand-control system designed by BHA technical director David Brown and development technician Jonathan Gormley.
‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens returns to a race car at Mid-Ohio
Wickens has major aspirations in joining a six-car team that has won three consecutive championships in the MPC, vowing to win the season opener despite having yet to drive the car yet.
“Aim big,” he said during a Zoom news conference Friday. “Let’s go for the win. It’s not every day you can jump straight in with a team that’s won multiple championships with a teammate that’s won multiple championships. I couldn’t be in a better place.
“I feel like I was forced to leave at the peak of my career. I was driving better than ever and never felt fitter or stronger. I want to continue where I left off.”
It’s been a long, winding, and difficult road to this point and the journey is not over, but thankful we’ll be able to move down the road with a bit more speed!
Now, let’s go win. pic.twitter.com/hoPyoorJTO
— Robert Wickens (@robertwickens) January 14, 2022
Wickens won the pole position and led 69 laps in his NTT IndyCar Series debut nearly four years ago and also was the 2018 Indy 500 rookie of the year.
Wickens made a big leap last May in his journey back to a race car, turning 62 laps with Herta’s team at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
It was his first exposure to hand controls mounted on the steering wheel that controlled the acceleration and braking of the No. 54 Veloster N TCR. Michael Johnson, a paralyzed driver who delivered Hyundai’s first podium with co-driver Stephen Simpson in a 2021 Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Daytona, helped guide Wickens through the use of hand controls.
Wickens also had watched Alex Zanardi race with hand controls in the DTM and sports cars series (including the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona). Zanardi was among the first to call after Wickens was paralyzed.
Wickens said Friday that he can stand with support but likely won’t walk again.
“My recovery has plateaued,” he said. “I’m not regaining any more muscle function. Unfortunately, it’s looking like I’ll be in a chair for the remainder of my life as long as modern science and medicine stays where it is. But it’s still a great life.”
For the past two seasons, Wickens has worked as a consultant and driver coach for Arrow McLaren SP, the team he drove for during his rookie season in the NTT IndyCar Series up until the Pocono crash.
Wickens said he will remain in the consultant role for Arrow McLaren SP during the 2022 season. Asked whether he wanted to race the Indy 500 again, Wickens said he is keeping his options open and is “at a point where if I never return to IndyCar, I’m very satisfied with that.
“The first thing is the race here in my Hyundai Elantra just for myself to prove I can do it again,” he said. “It’s almost like a proof of concept. I haven’t raced in three and a half years. I want to know I can do it again. Once we tick that box, nothing is out of the question. Also on the same side, I’m interested in exploring new avenues. I’ve never done any sports car races, and the new LMDh (prototype category) looks insane. I’m interested in exploring motorsports outside IndyCar.”