WATCH: Robert Wickens drives modified Acura NSX pace car before IndyCar Toronto07/15/2019
Robert Wickens behind the wheel of a custom Acura NSX with his fiance Karli Woods.
In a way, Robert Wickens returned to the NTT IndyCar Series grid on Sunday afternoon.
And then he made a statement that he wanted to return in other ways too.
Almost a year after the violent crash at Pocono Raceway that left him in a wheelchair, Wickens led the field to green for the Honda Indy Toronto by driving a modified Acura NSX pace car with modified hand controls which allowed the Guelph, Ontario native to control the throttle.
He also gave the traditional command to fire engines, calling the grid his “future drivers,” a hint that suggested he hopes to follow Sam Schmidt into team ownership someday.
“Honestly, I’m just over the moon with how crazy this is … this is just incredible,” Wickens told NBC before getting into the car. “It’s going to feel like I won the race.”
The electronics were constructed by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports partner Arrow, the same entity that sponsored his No. 6 Honda during his 2018 rookie IndyCar campaign. His fiancée, Karli Woods, was in the passenger seat alongside her man for the emotional ride.
Wickens first drove the car on Thursday morning and even looped it into the wall a couple of times while trying to prepare for Sunday afternoon. The 30-year-old delivered a confident performance, driving full-speed into the corners, eliciting a shriek from his bride-to-be.
The crowd responded by giving Wickens the loudest ovation of the weekend — and one teammate and fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe could hear from under his helmet and inside his car.
“He led every lap he was a part of,” Hinchcliffe said. “That was obviously really cool. I was already strapped in the car. We didn’t get to see the TV. I was just kind of watching everybody’s reaction. I could tell when he was getting close to a wall (because) Karli’s face was lighting up based on how everybody was reacting.
“You could hear the cheers every corner of the racetrack even from inside the car. It was awesome to see him back on track, home crowd, awesome to see the support he’s had.”
Wickens suffered a thoracic spinal fracture, a spinal cord injury, neck fractures, tibia and fibula fractures to both legs, fractures in both hands, a fractured right forearm, a fractured elbow, four fractured ribs and a pulmonary contusion in his crash at Pocono on August 19.
He burst onto the IndyCar scene with an impressive rookie campaign that had him sixth in the championship at the time of his crash. He came within one restart of winning the season-opener at St. Petersburg and had posted seven straight top-five finishes before his crash.
Wickens has been very transparent about the recovery process on social media, saying that the interactions with the IndyCar community has kept him emotionally level.
He wants to dance at his wedding in September … and yes … he wants to get back in a race car someday.
“I’ll confidently say I’ll be able to stand there, and then, jokingly, like that wouldn’t have been much different than if I wasn’t injured in the first place,” Wickens said with a hearty laugh during his Thursday media availabilities. “No, I mean, hopefully we can sway a little bit. She might have to take the lead, and I’ll just drag behind her. But we’ll figure something out.”
And then he plans to figure out what he can do in a race car, too.
“I think the target after the wedding is to hopefully have a trial-basis steering wheel setup so I can get on the Honda IndyCar simulator and get to work,” Wickens said.
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