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Wickens climbs podium at Honda Indy Toronto

TORONTO – Last year Guelph racer Robert Wickens was at the Honda Indy Toronto peering up at long-time racing buddy and now Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate James Hinchcliffe as Hinchcliffe stood on the podium for the Verizon IndyCar Series race.

Wickens was racing overseas then as a member of the Mercedes team in the Germany-based DTM touring car series.

Sunday it was Wickens on the podium at Toronto, his third top-three finish of his rookie season in the IndyCar series.

“Yes, it’s amazing,” Wickens said during the event’s post-race news conference. “Honestly 365 days ago I was rushing to the podium to watch Hinch. It’s crazy full circle I’m here now. Honestly, it was a great day. We made our lives difficult qualifying 10th. We thought we had an okay car, but we didn’t really piece it together in qualifying. We found something in warmup, but we weren’t fast, so it’s like one of those things. What do we do into the race? We kind of committed to it.”

Series leader Scott Dixon won the race in one hour, 37 minutes and 0.3100 seconds. Simon Pagenaud was 5.2701 seconds behind in second and Wickens was third, 6.7753 seconds behind Dixon.

Wickens qualified 10th and moved up to eighth on the opening lap. He was sixth when the green flag fell for a restart on the 39th lap of the 85-lap race and everything opened up for him to make his way to second.

“We were pretty fortunate there on that restart that basically got me up into second, just right place at the right time,” he said. “Probably more luck than talent, but we ended up in P2 after that restart. Honestly it was the turning point of our race. For the track position, our pace was good enough to stay there.”

Wickens dropped to third behind Pagenaud when the pair made their second pit stops for fuel. Wickens came in on the 54th lap. Pagenaud pitted two laps later and returned to the track right in front of Wickens and they battled through the first three corners.

“When Simon and I got into it a little bit, I was expecting him to actually overcut me because I made a mistake on my out lap,” Wickens said. “I was kind of cursing myself the whole lap thinking, Oh, God, this should be interesting.”

“I made one on my in lap.” Pagenaud said.

“I was thinking, I need a little bit more, a little bit more,” Wickens said. “I tried going into One. He defended it. We had a little contact there. Then it was kind of a dogfight straight up at Turn Three. I broke as late as I could, probably the latest through the entire race. Give credit when it’s due, Simon was able to match it on cold tires. Hats off to him.

“Then it was just good, hard racing. I was ultimately maybe hoping for a little bit more space on the exit. When the guy is on cold tires, you can only expect so much because he’s trying to get as much grip as he can.”

Both put the battle and any contact made during that time down to just plain, hard racing.

“It’s hard racing on the streets of Toronto, two cars that are battling for the same real estate,” Pagenaud said. “I’m coming out on cold tires in a position advantage. Robert tried. He had to go into turn one as deep as he could. I really thought I was actually going to crash in turn one after we had contact. But I managed to get a really good run out of Turn One. From there, I was like, Okay, now I’m defending as hard as I can. I have to keep this position.

“It’s my job to keep my position and try as hard as I can. Obviously it’s not about running each other into the walls or crashing together. The key is to just be on the limit of that. Certainly was on the limit, but two very professional racers in my opinion that just raced really hard. That’s what IndyCar is about.”

It also helped that neither crashed out that lap.

“I think if one of us didn’t finish, I think there would be very different feelings,” Wickens said.

“Quite true,” Pagenaud agreed.

“To be honest, we were both right on the edge. I think that’s what IndyCar racing is all about,” Wickens said. “We both definitely pushed the boundaries, but we didn’t go too far where you just destroy the other guy. I think that’s where the limit was.”

And that left the two of them on the podium.

“Thankfully I’m not an overly teary guy, but that was really cool,” Wickens said. “I can’t thank these Toronto fans enough. I mean this whole week has been such a whirlwind of emotions and to stand on the podium soon in my first professional home race – I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

The result also keeps Wickens in sixth place in the standings with 339 points. Dixon leads with 464 and is followed by Josef Newgarden at 402, Alexander Rossi at 394, Ryan Hunter-Reay at 373, Will Power at 371, Wickens, Pagenaud at 320, Graham Rahal at 313, Wickens’ teammate Hinchcliffe, who finished fourth in the race, at 312 and Marco Andretti at 266.

Next race in the series is the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio July 29.

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