After spending the past six years racing for Mercedes in Europe, Robert Wickens is set for the next chapter of racing career – the Verizon IndyCar Series, set to drive for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2018.
The Canadian recently talked about his thoughts entering the year with POPULAR OPEN WHEEL.
POPULAR OPEN WHEEL: What are your thoughts entering the season?
ROBERT WICKENS: I’m very excited going into the season. It’s unknown territory for me, I guess. I’ve been going for the DTM Championship in Europe for Mercedes for the past couple of seasons. IndyCar has been something that I’ve been watching as a fan since I remember. Before I even started racing, I was watching IndyCar. I think there’s going to be something special there being in IndyCar now and being back home and finally have some friends & family at races. I haven’t had that many over the last six years in Europe because it’s tough to get there.
But I’m just excited. I’m eager to get started. My deal was announced in October and I feel it’s been the longest, but shortest busiest off-season that I’ve had, but I just want to get into racing.
POW: What are your goals and expectations for this year?
RW: It’s a question I’ve been answering a lot lately. I don’t really have any expectations. It’s something that I’ve always set in my mental mentality that anytime you set expectations, you’re setting yourself up for failure. So I’ve never really expected things. But that being said, I don’t have any idea how it will go. I’m confident in my own abilities. I think I can do a good job and they’re doing a great job getting me up to speed.
I have an awesome in James Hinchcliffe, doing everything that a teammate shouldn’t be doing to help their fellow teammate get up to speed, and it’s incredible. I feel very prepared – if the race was next week, I’d be ready for it. But it’d be make an amazing accomplishment to finish in the top-10 in the first race, but the important thing for me in my rookie season is to finish as many laps as possible. From them, then start worrying about top-10, and then start working on top-five, and next thing you know you’re striving for wins and podiums on a regular basis, which is what it takes to be a regular front runner in IndyCar.
POW: What are your initial impressions of IndyCar so far?
RW: It’s been really cool. The fans are fantastic. They’re so passionate about IndyCar. There is such an awesome diversity in age of the fan base. You kind of see grandfather, father, son all of them at the track together – it’s a real kind of family atmosphere, which is really cool. But the car itself is really nice to drive, it’s fun, it’s challenging. I didn’t have much experience in IndyCar prior to this year, so I don’t know much different (between aero kit and new aero kit), but it’s definitely a handful and will make for great racing.
The big question mark on my mind is the ovals. I still haven’t done one yet, so that’s going to be kind of what I’m most excited for right now because it’s one of the only things in motorsports that I haven’t done yet. I’m looking forward to that.
POW: You talked about having James as a teammate, but you guys have also been friends for a long time now. What’s the best story you can share of the friendship you both have?
RW: There’s endless stories between us. Anytime we’re together, we can make a story that we’ll remember for years. It’s just such a cool experience to share my rookie season in IndyCar with my best friend. It’s honestly too good to be true. James is going above and beyond as a teammate to help get me up to speed, and I can confidently say I don’t think there’s any other IndyCar driver on the grid that’s doing as much as James is to help his teammate. It just goes to show how good of a team player he is, but also that we have a very good off-track relationship, which is making good on-track relationship at Schmidt Peterson.
In terms of stories, when we were kids, I built a little simulator in my bedsroom out of scrap wood – it wasn’t any nice or fancy. But James and I would do full Grand Trismo 24-hour endurance races, just the two of us in my bedsroom, ordering Pizza Pizza and just not leaving my room for a day and playing video games the whole time. It was just a lot of fun. We were always challenging each other in competition at everything that we did. But yeah, it was really stuff like that. We are both huge movie buffs so we watch a lot of movies. There are too many stories to tell you right now for sure.
POW: Outside of the friendship, though, what does it mean for you to be part of the first all Canadian line-up in IndyCar since 2004?
RW: It’s awesome. I grew up watching Team Players, and watching Paul Tracy and (Patrick) Carpenter, or going back to Jacque (Villeneuve). There are just so many cool memories for me as a kid. To be kind of linked back to that team Canada atmosphere, it is really incredible and I’m honored to be a part of it. I know James is, as well. Hopefully this is a big thing for the future with the up-and-coming in Canadian motorsports.
I think I was very fortunate in a very exciting era of motorsport as a kid, where I got the bug to race because of watching Formula 1, and watching CART races. My first year of karting was in ’97 when Jacque Villeneuve won the World Championship. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not, but I think it was a very exciting time then. I remember when I was a kid growing up, the amount of numbers you had was truly remarkable to where it has been in recent years. So hopefully James and I do a good enough job to get Canadian motorsports higher up on the map.
POW: What track are you most excited for?
RW: There’s a lot. I haven’t had a home race in over a decade so it’s going to be really nice to get to Toronto and have tons of hometown support. That’s always going to be a highlight for me. Indy 500 – my first Indy 500; I’ve never been to the race before. My first time is going to be participating in it, so that’ll be something special. Even St. Pete – I’ve never been to St. Petersburg the city, let alone the race.
So there’s going to be so many this year that I am looking forward to throughout the year. I’m just going to have to try to take it all in, and learn on the fly, and see where we go. There’s too many – I’m just excited for all of them. I mean, Long Beach is always a favorite of mine. I drove it, got on the podium there in ’07 in Atlantics. But there’s so many cool tracks that IndyCar goes to that it’s hard to just pick one that I am really looking forward to the most.
POW: How did your interest in racing originally start?
RW: That’s kind of the magical question. I don’t really know how I found it. I’ve heard stories from my parents from when I was a kid that I didn’t want to play with toy guns or anything like that. I was kind of like a nuisance kid where I was always kind of bugging them because I couldn’t find one thing that I wanted to play with. Then apparently, a race was on TV and I was hypnotized by the TV, staring at it. So then my dad went out and bought me a couple toy cars, and I started playing with toy cars. Then they got me a little race track carpet and I’d play on that for countless hours. Then I started watching every race on Sunday, and I’d recreate the race with my toy cars. I could spend weeks doing that.
I don’t know what got me hooked on it, but then one thing led to another, and I was able to race for the very first time. I absolutely loved it, and had to quit all the other sports I was playing at the time to afford the racing. As a seven-year-old, I wanted to race on my own instead of playing sports with my all my best friends. There must have been something there that I knew I loved at the time.
POW: You’ve gotten to do quite a bit in your career, including entering this new chapter, but is there anything else that you’d like to do beyond IndyCar?
RW: I would love to do 24 Hours of LeMan. If I do the 24 Hours of LeMan and get into endurance races, then I want to do the Rolex 24 at Daytona. I’ve also always wanted to try rally, just because I thought the cars are wicked and the way I drive – I’ve always been told that I have a high mental capacity of listening while I’m driving, because I like a lot of radio banter during a race with the engineers feeding information. So I feel like I could take to rallying where the co-driver is talking to you.
But I’m still happy with my career. I feel I have already accomplished so much more than other people even in IndyCar just because I’ve been in Europe for several years, driving Formula 1 cars and racing for Mercedes for a little over six years. It’s just awesome. To be honest, anything else that happens is a bonus, but I would like to win LeMan and win Daytona. I was actually talking to James the other day about doing the Dakar Rally. I was like, ‘Would you do it with me as my co-driver?’ and he was like, ‘Absolutely.’ So I think that’d be something cool to do.
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