Joe Skibinski/IndyCar photo

 

Guelph’s Wickens second in his first IndyCar oval race

PHOENIX – Robert Wickens of Guelph finished the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix, his fist ever race on an oval circuit, in the runner-up position.

“It’s a dream come true,” Wickens said in a release on his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team’s website. “All I wanted to do was finish every lap of my oval debut, so to come home P2 and even lead tonight, you can never expect that as a rookie. It’s so hard here but the Lucas Oil team did a great job. The car was great all day. (Teammate) James (Hinchcliffe) and I were quick, so I think it’s really encouraging for things to come.”

Wickens, a Bishop Macdonell graduate, finished 2.9946 seconds behind the winner, Josef Newgarden, and 0.4944 seconds ahead of Alexander Rossi who finished third.

Wickens led twice during the race for a total of 44 laps in the 250-lap race on the 1.022-mile track. He led from lap 149 until Ryan Hunter-Reay took the lead on the 178th lap and Wickens led from lap 232 when he stayed out on a late caution until Newgarden, who pitted for new tires, surged past on the 247th lap.

“Even on that last restart, leading, knowing there is only the three of us that stayed out, my thought process didn’t really change,” Wickens said in a post-race news conference. “Even if I finished fifth, I would have been kind of, well, a little bit disappointed but still happy that I got even a top five on my first oval race. I feel like I’m setting the bar a little bit high for myself, but I never would have expected the first two races to go as well as they did. Hopefully we can get our season going now.”

Wickens finished 18th in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg March 11 when he and Rossi collided following a restart with two laps to go and Wickens leading. He led 69 laps of the 110-lap race in his debut in the series.

Wickens and Hinchcliffe ran most of the Phoenix race in close proximity to one another. Hinchcliffe finished sixth.

“Not the ending we wanted, but that last restart starting second – huge credit to the team,” Hinchcliffe said. “Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have done an incredible job since the test here in February when we were at the bottom (of the time sheets) to get two cars in the top six in both qualifying and the race. Huge congrats to Robbie on his first podium.

“Restarting second on that last restart, I thought maybe we had a shot at it. We took a gamble, other guys took a gamble – it’s tough to tell how it went in terms of stopping for tires on the last restart; Alex, Robbie and I decided not to. Ultimately the new-tire guy won, but track position is key at a place like this, and we made a call — that call was right. I’m proud of the guys. Stinks to lose a couple spots so late in the race like that when we were running at the top all day, but good points day, and huge for the team.”

Newgarden leads the series with 77 points while Rossi is second at 72 and St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais is third at 70. Hinchcliffe is sixth at 61 and Wickens eighth at 57, the highest-placed rookie.

“I’m still going day by day,” Wickens said. “We’re gelling right now, I guess, at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. By no means, I can’t expect this throughout the season. I think it’s going better than anyone expected, better than I expected.

“But nevertheless, we’re just going to keep doing the job that we’re doing. Yeah, like I said, take it day by day. Motorsports, things can turn so quickly, you just have to do the best job you can each day. Sometimes that’s a podium, sometimes that’s a 10th, sometimes you can’t even crack the top 10. We just have to take what’s given to us and go from there.”

Next race in the series is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach set for April 15.

  • Guelph Sports Journal