The 34-year-old, who suffered a serious spinal injury in an IndyCar crash at Pocono in 2018, raced in the IMSA Pilot Challenge championship with the Hyundai-backed Bryan Herta Autosport team.
After starring and winning races in his Elantra N TCR, the Canadian is looking for an opportunity to return to one of the sport’s premier series and has his sights set on the 2024 Indy 500.
“I think participating in the Indy 500 would be an extraordinary opportunity – Wickens tells Motorsport.com – If I can line up on the starting grid for the Indy 500 in 2024, it will be the 108th edition of the race and there has never been anyone at the start with a disability”.
“I never thought this would be my future. But if it were, I think it would be a very nice thing to do. And it would be a very good thing with regards to spinal cord injuries.”
“I think it would be great for all the people who struggle with something, to show that you can achieve anything in life if you have great support, put in a lot of hard work and have a positive attitude.”
Pocono IndyCar race, 2018: Robert Wickens crash
Photo by: Todd Dziadosz / Motorsport Images
In the Pocono crash, Wickens sustained horrific injuries, including a spinal cord, thoracic spine fracture, neck, tibia and fibula fractures in both legs, both hands, right forearm elbow, concussion, four broken ribs, and pulmonary contusion.
But it was the arrest of his neurological recovery from his spinal cord injury that limited his muscle function in his lower extremities. Now he uses a wheelchair in everyday life, even though he can stand on crutches.
“For me, just stepping back into an IndyCar and doing laps would be an accomplishment in itself. We need to retrofit a car with hand controls to see if that’s possible.”
“Right now we are trying to find a partner willing to help us adapt to IndyCar because, as you can imagine, it’s not free. Once we have the funds to do something on the track, then we can start thinking about other options and opportunities “.
“From there, we can evaluate whether the Indy 500 is a possibility, or maybe there will be no way and I will abandon the idea. If so, I will start focusing on IMSA and other categories.”
Robert Wickens, Hyundai Elantra N: steering wheel with hand controls
Photo by: Bryan Herta Autosport
Wickens uses hand controls in his Hyundai TCR and a hand-controlled throttle has already been used in an IndyCar when Alex Zanardi completed the final 13 laps at the Lausitzring in 2003, two years after the horrific crash that cost him his legs.
Wickens is ever present in the IndyCar paddock through his role as a driver advisor to Arrow McLaren. He said he enjoyed racing touring cars in the IMSA, but added: “I feel like this is just the beginning of my life project to get back into that kind of elite level motorsport again. I feel I have an unfinished business”.
His crew chief Herta, a two-time Indy 500 winner as a team owner, is supportive of Wickens’ plans to return to IndyCar and believes it is possible, but that it will take time to figure it out technically.
“I think Robert is a huge inspiration to all of us. We are interested and evaluating everything, but I think we would all like to see him in action in an IndyCar,” said Herta.
“The series has been incredibly supportive of the idea and very open to looking into the matter. Nobody said ‘no, it can’t be done’. There were many yeses. And that’s where we are.”
“We’re talking about developing technologies that don’t exist or have never been used in these kinds of mediums. And it’s not something that can be done in a hurry. So, the answer now is that we don’t know.”
#33: Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian, Hyundai Elantra N TCR, TCR: Robert Wickens
Photo by: Bryan Herta Autosport
Herta said the hand controls Wickens currently has cannot be used on an IndyCar, so a custom system must be designed and built.
“The system we use wouldn’t work per se in an IndyCar, due to installation and weight reasons. And then there’s the physical aspect: can you get out of the car like other drivers? These are things we’re still studying” .
“I would very much like Robert to do that. I know he could drive the car and be extremely competitive. I have no doubts about that. There are other challenges and obstacles that we would have to solve one by one.”
#IndyCar #Wickens #disabled #person #Indy