TORONTO, Ontario — When asked after Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying what his strategy for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto was, Robert Wickens didn’t mince words – “to win.”
If the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver is going to make it happen, he will have his work cut out for him as he qualified 10th.
“I think we were hoping for better, but this is more or less what we expected,” Wickens told POPULAR OPEN WHEEL.” We’ve been struggling this weekend – both James and myself – for overall grip. We probably made some good steps forward, but weather changed things up a bit.”
His teammate and fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe will start right alongside him, as Hinchcliffe qualified ninth.
“Obviously not what we wanted at the end of the day with the spin that we had on the second run on the reds, which actually cost us two laps, leaving us only one lap to put a time down,” he told POPULAR OPEN WHEEL. “We managed to get up where we did – which was 10th. That’s the heartbreaker. I believe we had the pace to be up there in the fast six. It wasn’t meant to be. It was my mistake, and we’ll start where we start. We know that we can race and move our way up. We proved that the past couple of races, and hopefully we can do that again.”
If it’s possible, the pair could make it happen as they’ve shown their strength on street courses already this year, with Hinchcliffe finishing fifth at St. Petersburg, and Wickens running up front in both events prior to a wreck.
The addition of Wickens to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has worked out tremendously well for both drivers, who actually spent time together at a younger age. Hinchcliffe says the biggest benefit comes from how much Wickens pushes the guys, and himself.
“Robbie comes from a place that had a very hefty budget and a lot of resources and they did a lot of cool stuff. So he comes in with all these ideas where our engineers are like, ‘That would be awesome but we can’t afford that, but we love where your head is at,’” Hinchcliffe said. “He’s pushing the engineering department which is great and he’s pushing me in a way that I haven’t been pushed in a bunch of years, which is so good for me. In the first five or six races, there’s been countless situations where because we can drive the same car – another thing I haven’t had in several years – we can go in totally different directions to try and learn this car as best as we can. Whoever has the best car after P3, that’s the car that goes out for qualifying and it’s worked both ways. We’ve both gone on to have good qualifying sessions in a car that we haven’t driven all weekend.
“So if you take that, add it on the personal relationship – I mean he’s a pain in the ass and I hate I spend so much time with him.”
Now with having seen the benefits so far this year, the group hopes the momentum carries into the Honda Indy Toronto, following a podium finish by Hinchcliffe the past two seasons.
“It’s a little bit of added pressure too as it’s been two years on the podium,” Hinchcliffe said. “Alright third is great, but first is better. On the other hand, it takes a little pressure off because for years, I was struggling so hard for a result at this race. We had no luck and we often didn’t have great cars – Paul Tracy ran into me. I was just so desperate for a result here in so many ways that now we’ve done it and backed it up, it kind of takes a little pressure off. But at the same time, there’s been a trend of better results so you want to keep that up and going.
“Every thing is out of the window with the car that we’re going to so we’re having to figure it out like I said, so nobody knows what to expect. Hopefully what we’ve learned over the past few seasons to make the jump into podium contention will transfer and we can be strong again.”
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