FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. – Robert Wickens will compete a full IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season in the GT Class for Bryan Herta Autosport this year.
Wickens returns to competitive racing for the first time since a NTT IndyCar Series crash Aug. 19, 2018, at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway left him paralyzed.
“There is a lot of emotions, a lot of gratitude, for giving me this opportunity,” Wickens said. “There were a lot of times during this recovery that I thought it was possible, then I thought it was going to be possible. I wouldn’t be here without the support of a lot of people behind me.
“Here we are. A little late. But, better late than never. I can’t wait to get into the car next week.”
Wickens’ return to racing will be on a team that is a three-time IMSA Michelin Pilot champion, co-driving the No. 33 Elantra N TCR along with fellow Canadian champion Mark Wilkins during the IMSA season.
“Today is a monumental day for us as a team and as fans of Robert Wickens,” said Bryan Herta, president of BHA. “We have followed Robert’s rehabilitation and marveled at his determination and dedication, along with his many, many fans. To now announce that he will be making his professional motorsports return in one of our Hyundai Elantra N TCR cars is truly incredible. We thank Hyundai for their amazing support and helping us build a path for Robert to get back to where he belongs.”
On May 4, 2021, Wickens successfully evaluated the BHA No. 54 Hyundai Veloster N TCR using hand controls.
It was his first time driving a race car after 989 days of rehabilitation following his serious crash.
“Hand controls are an open book, and every driver is different,” Wickens said. “The braking system will be the same as it is for Michael Johnson and that has worked very well, and he has had a lot of success. I’m looking forward to getting some experience with it before we head to Daytona.”
When IMSA teams arrive at Daytona Int’l Speedway for the annual Roar Before the 24 on Jan. 22, Wickens will be competing against other drivers on track for the first time since that serious crash.
“I’ve spent a lot of nights thinking and dreaming of this moment, and with the support from Bryan Herta and Hyundai it is all becoming a reality,” Wickens. said “I am hungrier now than I was before my accident to compete for wins again. I’m really looking forward to incorporating myself with the entire Bryan Herta Autosport team and finally get my first taste of the Hyundai Elantra N TCR.”
Wickens also revealed that he has “plateaued” in his recovery regarding muscle strength and will likely be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
“What you see is what you get,” Wickens said. “I’m not regaining any more muscle function. It looks like I will be in a chair for the remainder of my life as long as modern medicine and science stays where it is.
“It’s a great life and I have regained a lot of function. I can stand with support, and I can make a couple of steps with support, but as far as leaving the chair permanently, I don’t think that is my pipeline right now.”
Wickens will remain a part of Arrow McLaren SP in the NTT IndyCar Series as a driver consultant working with drivers Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist and, at the Indianapolis 500, Juan Pablo Montoya.
“I will continue in my role with the team and for them to allow me to make the Michelin Pilot Challenge a priority in my schedule is awesome,” Wickens said. “I can’t thank them enough. They know how important this is to me.”
Wickens believes his future in racing will likely be outside of a return to IndyCar because too many modifications would be needed to make that possible. Indy cars do not use power steering, and Wickens said he needs to be in a series that features power steering in its car.
“I want to race here in the Michelin Pilot Challenge for myself to prove that I can do it again,” he said. “I haven’t raced in three-and-a-half years. I want to know I can do it again. Once we check that box, everything else is open. I would like to drive in the Indianapolis 500, but I’m also open to new challenges.
“I’m excited to explore other options outside of IndyCar right now.”