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Wickens Relishing Indy Homecoming in New Phase of Career

Thursday, September 14, 2023 Joey Barnes, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Robert Wickens

Former INDYCAR SERIES driver Robert Wickens (photo) leads the TCR class with co-driver Harry Gottsacker in the Michelin Pilot Challenge series that will race Sept. 15-16 at IMS during the IMSA Battle on the Bricks.

It was just over five years ago when everything changed for Robert Wickens.

The Canadian was amid a stellar rookie campaign in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES when, on Aug. 19, 2018, he was swept up in a vicious crash at Pocono Raceway. He suffered a thoracic spinal facture, spinal cord injury, neck fracture, tibia and fibula fractures to both legs, fractures in both hands, a fractured right forearm, fractured elbow, four fractured ribs and a pulmonary contusion in the incident. He also spent 10 days in an induced coma.

Wickens handled the rigorous road to recovery with class and relentlessness, with the focus on getting back behind the wheel of a race car, but also the heartfelt goal of being able to dance with his wife, Karli, on their wedding day of Sept. 28, 2019.

He defied the odds of the T4 spinal cord injury that left him with paralysis and achieved both.

The 34-year-old is amid his second season in IMSA’s Michelin Pilot Challenge, using hand controls to drive Bryan Herta Autosport’s No. 33 Hyundai Elantra N TCR alongside co-driver Harry Gottsacker.

“First off, just putting a helmet on and competing has been just an amazing opportunity,” Wickens said. “After my accident, my goal was always to race again, but I didn't know what that looked like. Returning straight away back to INDYCAR was something that became unrealistic, and then it was like, 'What should we do?'

“Thankfully, Bryan Herta reached out to me and asked if I wanted to test his car, which was a Hyundai Elantra N TCR car in the Michelin Pilot Challenge series. It was the only offer I had. Frankly, it's been an amazing opportunity, a lot of fun. For me to have these years in Michelin Pilot Challenge almost to prove to myself, although I never doubted it, that I can win, and I can compete with hand controls; that it's still possible.”

Not only is Wickens solidly back in the saddle, he’s also already a proven frontrunner.

In 2022, Wickens claimed two wins and an additional podium result en route to finishing sixth in the overall standings. This year established consistency has him right in the thick of the championship hunt, leading the class with Gottsacker coming into the Battle on the Bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Gottsacker and Wickens are seeking to become the fourth different driver pairing to win the title in five years from Bryan Herta Autosport.

When taking a moment on the journey to this point, Wickens reflected on the emotional takeaway from his journey while sharing another goal.

“I'm happiest when I'm competing,” Wickens said. “My whole recovery, I was working hard and doing what I could to get back into a race car and to race again. I didn't know at what point, but I was kind of just running blind and hoping for the best. At the moment, racing with Hyundai and Bryan Herta Autosport in Michelin Pilot Challenge, hopefully we're not done there. I have a mission of trying to make it up to the WeatherTech series and then race in that elite motorsport realm I've so desperately been trying to get to.

“(Not) Sharing my recovery wasn't really an option. I don't know, like it just felt like it was the right thing to do because early on in my recovery, I was trying to find videos of what spinal cord rehab looked like or just curiosity. And we couldn't find anything for my level of injury, what my acute injury was. My wife and I talked about it, and we thought it's an opportunity for us to shine some light on an injury that's not mainstream. I think I've read something that like someone gets paralyzed like every hour in the United States. I have no regrets for sharing my recovery.

“It was a no-brainer to share the journey and everything that goes with it. In ways, I wish I was stronger because I would love to have the strength to post stuff of your dark days because everyone always shares their best life on social media. My social media shows that every day and I'm working out, I'm feeling great, but that's just not reality. We're getting there slowly but surely.”

The attention pivots back to the anticipated return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It’s a place Wickens relished during his only Month of May running in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, finishing third – one of four podium results during his abbreviated 14-race rookie season – on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course before finishing ninth and claiming Rookie of the Year honors in the Indianapolis 500.

Simply put, every visit to the Racing Capital of the World brings a buzz.

“Indianapolis Motor Speedway is such a special place,” Wickens said. “It doesn't matter if you're racing anything. It's just when you go under that bridge and you enter the track, it's always special, and it takes your breath away every time. I have the privilege within my role (as driver coach) with Arrow McLaren in INDYCAR to spend a lot of time at IMS.

“My wife and I are still living in Indianapolis. We're very much part of the atmosphere, and it's a part of our culture and to be able to race there again and bring back memories to the last time I raced on the road course. It was in 2018 before the '500,' and I was able to get on the podium with Will Power and Scott Dixon, which personally was a highlight for me because in my opinion, they're modern-day GOATs of INDYCAR. To share the podium there was special, and I have a lot of good memories.

“I love that place. I love that road course. I don't think it gets enough credit that it deserves because it's actually a really challenging track to drive. You can't sit back and relax. You have to get up on the wheel and attack. It's very rewarding when you do that. It's a great facility. It's a great track. It's going to make for very good IMSA racing, especially for us in the Michelin Pilot Challenge series. We have a four-hour race, so it's going to bring up its own challenges there, as well.”

The Battle on the Bricks is scheduled for Sept. 15-17 at IMS. Visit for tickets and information.