INDIANAPOLIS – Robert Wickens returns to competitive driving this weekend on the Daytona Int’l Speedway road course during the Roar Before the Rolex 24.
A severe spinal cord injury suffered in a horrendous crash in the NTT IndyCar Series race at Pocono Raceway has left him confined to a wheelchair. However, modifications in several racing series have allowed drivers with similar injuries to return to racing using hand controls.
Wickens took to the track Friday morning at Daytona and was the fourth fastest overall in the session (2 minutes, 01.02 seconds).
Last Friday, Wickens announced he will compete in the full IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season in the TCR class for Bryan Herta Autosport. His return to racing will be with a team that has won three IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge championships. Wickens will co-drive the No. 33 Elantra N TCR along with fellow Canadian Mark Wilkins.
SPEED SPORT asked several NTT IndyCar Series drivers about Wickens remarkable return to competitive racing this past Monday and Tuesday during Content Day at the JW Marriott Hotel.
“It’s amazing,” longtime friend and sometimes on-track foe Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport told SPEED SPORT. “I’m very good friends with Rob and have been for almost a decade at this point. We were all obviously there in 2018, and we knew that his commitment and his desire was to get back behind the wheel of a race car, and he’s doing it now.
“It’s a huge shout-out to him and his continual drive through a lot of ups and downs, and to his wife Karli, her support, to his therapists, his doctors, to Bryan for giving him the opportunity, to Hyundai. I think it’s an amazing, amazing thing, and I can’t wait to see him on track in a couple days.”
Wickens is from Guelph, Ontario, and remains very close friends with many drivers in the series. Dalton Kellett is another driver from the Toronto area that is competing in IndyCar, back for his third season with A.J. Foyt Racing.
“I’m confident to say there were a lot of tears shed that day by a lot of people in the racing industry when Robby returns to the track,” Kellett told SPEED SPORT. “It’s an inspiring story. I train at PitFit, where Robby does a lot of his rehab. To see him work that hard in the last few years is inspiring. I know Robby back from the karting days. To see Bryan Herta give him a chance to get back in it, it’s an amazing thing.”
Colton Herta is team owner Bryan Herta’s son and has a close understanding of his father’s IMSA team.
“It’s a competitive series so it will be a good judge of where Robby is at, how he is feeling in a race car,” Colton Herta told SPEED SPORT. “I think as far as what he is going into, it’s a good program, but there is no pressure at all. He’s been out of a race car for three years and that would be difficult for any driver to get back in a race car.
“I’m confident he will have the same speed that he did when he hops in, but it may take a few weekends in. I’m excited to see that.”
All three drivers are in Daytona this weekend for the annual Roar Before the Rolex 24 pre-season test.
Rossi is driving the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura DPi. Herta is in the No. 81 DragonSpeed USA LMP2 team.