Racer Magazine: By Richard S. James |
Sports Car racing had quite a year in 2022. Great battles, hard racing, championships going down to the final race – if not the final minutes of the final race. And much excitement is building for next year with the introduction of the LMDh cars as the GTP class in IMSA and adding to the counts in WEC Hypercar.
Tasked with picking my favorite story of 2022, there was much to choose from. Meyer Shank Racing’s Rolex 24 At Daytona victory a decade on after team co-owner Michael Shank’s first was a fantastic moment. GT World Challenge America had its first woman champion in Ashton Harrison, who won the Pro-Am title with Mario Farnbacher in a do-or-die Indianapolis 8 Hour finale. Then there’s Ferrari going back into factory sports car racing with its 499P Hypercar.
The story that stuck with me the most, however, wasn’t the biggest attention-grabber. It wasn’t the story of a hard-fought title, it didn’t get anywhere near the most social media shares, and it didn’t even happen in one of the top sports car championships, but rather the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge support series.
How can you not love a story about a guy who gets his first victory in a series, has to rush home from the next track to be with his wife for the birth of their first child, and rush back, get in the car with no practice (and starting at the back because he missed qualifying) and hand the car to his teammate in position for them to take their second consecutive victory in the most unlikely of circumstances?
Add in the fact that Robert Wickens was in his first year back racing after suffering a life-threatening – and what for most people would be career-ending – crash in an IndyCar at Pocono in 2018 that left him without the use of his legs, and it becomes more of a fairytale. Cherry on top? The second victory, after winning the Tioga Downs Casino Resort 120 at Watkins Glen seven days earlier, was at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park: a pretty good place to win for Canadians Wickens and Mark Wilkins.
After winning at Watkins Glen, Wickens and Wilkins went straight to CTMP outside of Toronto ahead of the following week’s race to perform manufacturer activities for Hyundai Canada. But after a visit to the doctor on that Thursday, Robert’s wife Karli let him know that delivery was coming sooner than expected. He needed to be home by the next morning.
Wickens drove late into the night to get back to Indianapolis for the birth of their first child, Wesley Joseph Wickens. With mother and baby doing fine, Wickens jetted back to CTMP to race in the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park 120. You know what happened next – a most improbable, but roundly celebrated, victory.
As you likely know, Wickens drives with hand controls, and has to be assisted out of the car at the end of his stint before handing over to Wilkins. Wilkins, a stellar driver who has raced many different cars from touring to GT3, has been a bit overshadowed this season by his well-known teammate with the great story, but never stops smiling. The two have combined to perform well in the Hyundai Elantra N TCR car this season, and Wickens finished sixth in the IMPC Touring Car points standings (Wilkins had to miss a race).
The second victory after the birth of Wesley Joseph was the most feel-good of feel-good stories. Add in a stellar headline – RACER.com associate editor Cody Globig gets the credit for that – and it was indeed a most memorable day, and hopefully a memorable report. Here’s looking forward to more great stories in 2023.