Charging from the Rear of the Field, the No. 33 Hyundai Duo Win for the Second Straight Week in the Michelin Pilot Challenge
By Jeff Olson
BOWMANVILLE, Ontario – It’s been a blur, Robert Wickens said. That’s an understatement.
Wickens finished off a whirlwind week Saturday by teaming with Mark Wilkins to win on home turf in the Touring Car (TCR) class of the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park 120, the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
The victory came a week after they won at Watkins Glen International – Wickens’ first victory since a crash in 2018 left him paralyzed – and a day after Wickens and wife Karli welcomed the birth of their son, Wesley Joseph.
“It’s been a fairytale, really,” Wickens said. “The win at Watkins felt very deserved. We’ve worked hard. We’ve been there every race this year. It finally clicked when we got that win. We thought, ‘Let’s take this momentum into our home race.’”
After Wickens and Wilkins arrived in their native Canada to do advance promotional work for the race, Karli called during Thursday’s track walk. Wesley was arriving two weeks earlier than expected, she said, and Robert needed to get back to Indianapolis.
“She said, ‘I need you home tomorrow morning,’” Wickens said. “I can’t thank everyone at Bryan Herta Autosport enough – not only for being understanding, but for not making me feel like there was any pressure. They made it very clear that family always comes first. Honestly, I’m so grateful.”
Because he wasn’t at CTMP to qualify Friday, the No. 33 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR started from the back of the 14-car TCR field. Little more than 30 minutes into the two-hour race, Wickens had the car in third place.
Wilkins took over midway through the race, drove to the lead on a restart with 20 minutes left and went on to prevail in a podium sweep for the BHA Hyundais on what the two Canadian drivers consider their home track.
“The story is really Robert today,” Wilkins said. “Coming in (to start the race) with no laps and passing three cars on his first lap? He hadn’t turned a lap at all here in I don’t know how many years. Mega drive. Lots of tense nerves for me waiting to get out there. … It just feels amazing.”
Michael Lewis finished second – just 0.522 seconds behind Wilkins – in the No. 1 BHA Hyundai he co-drove with Taylor Hagler. Harry Gottsacker was third in the No. 98 BHA Hyundai he shared with Parker Chase.
As Wilkins praised Wickens after the victory, Wickens returned the favor. Without Wilkins doing the prep work and communicating it, Wickens said he wouldn’t have been able to be as fast as he was.
“I’ve never been so prepared ahead of a race,” Wickens said. “But I’ve also never jumped into a race without a single lap of practice. Honestly, it’s just amazing. I definitely didn’t expect to win today. It’s obviously a dream.”
Eight days, two wins and – most importantly – a son. The time of a racer’s life.
“It’s been a blur,” Wickens said. “Everything up until Thursday afternoon was pretty calm. It’s been a world of emotions. I think I got all my tears out on Friday when our son Wesley was born and he was healthy. I just can’t wait to get back home and see the baby again.”
Lewis and Hagler unofficially reclaimed the TCR points lead by 40 over Roy Block, Tim Lewis and the No. 5 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR. Wickens and Wilkins moved into a third-place tie with Gottsacker and Chase, 90 points out of the lead.
The Michelin Pilot Challenge returns to action July 15-16 with the Lime Rock Park 120 at the track of the same name in Connecticut.