Robert Wickens has won his first race since his career-pausing IndyCar crash at Pocono in 2018, which left him with a devastating spinal injury.
Sharing his Hyundai Elantra N with fellow Canadian Mark Wilkins in a two-hour race at Watkins Glen, Wickens won the TCR class of the Michelin Pilot Challenge event for Bryan Herta Autosport.
His last race victory was in September 2017, at the Nurburgring for Mercedes in the DTM.
Due to his spinal cord injury, Wickens races with hand controls for the throttle and brake, although he retains feeling in his legs and can stand for short periods holding a frame.
He drove the first stint, surging from fourth on the grid to the lead after an early pitstop under yellow for new tyres and fuel. Before handing over to Wilkins, he extended his lead to 10s after a charging drive on fresh rubber.
Their car even briefly ran ninth overall in the combined GT4/TCR event, before being shuffled back into the class pack for restarts. A flurry of late yellows meant the Alfa Romeo of Tim Lewis Jr was right on Wilkins’s tail to the checkered flag.
After getting to within 0.3s at one point, Wilkins held on as Wickens from the pits in his wheelchair.
“We’ve been so close to this a number of times this year and it’s been taken away from us through what feels like no fault of our own,” Wickens told NBC after the race.
Hyundai Elantra N Hand Controls enable Robert Wickens to utilize his throttle, brake and shifting inputs for his Elantra N TCR
Photo by: Bryan Herta Autosport
“So, to finally come through with a relatively clean race [feels amazing].
“I gave us a little scare in our first pitstop [when he bumped into the back of teammate Parker Chase at the pit entry] but the car was great, our Hyundai Elantra N TCR was just dialled-in this weekend.
“The Alfa has just different strengths to us, so those final laps were pretty nerve-racking. It was so much quicker on the straights – Mark would have half a second on it at start/finish and still had to defend at the Bus Stop. He did such a good job, I’m just happy I gave it to him in one piece and in good shape.”
Wickens also revealed that he was watching in the pits on a delayed stream on NBC’s Peacock service and hadn’t realised he was “living in the past”, as it was a minute behind when the final lap started.
When asked how this win fits in his career, he replied: “It’s like a milestone one.
“It’s not the most emotional win I’ve had for some reason, maybe because I was sitting as we crossed the finish line and I didn’t have the adrenaline of being in the car.
“Honestly, we did so well this weekend.
“We had an issue in qualifying that the team did so well to rectify to give me at least one lap, and we clearly had the pace in the end.”