Schmidt Peterson Motorsports general manager Piers Phillips offered high praise for Robert Wickens after the Canadian got his first taste of the 2018 universal aero kit on Thursday. With teammate James Hinchcliffe acting as his IndyCar coach and mentor at Sebring International Raceway, it would appear Wickens made quite an impression on the Honda-powered outfit in and out of the car.
“It took a couple of runs for ‘Wicky’ to get settled, and then we went through calibration stuff and some ‘basics-of-IndyCar’ stuff like fuel saving and other things, but we worked him really hard and he was exceptional,” Phillips told RACER.
“He was quick, and his feedback was phenomenal. He just blew everybody away on the timing stand with the level and depth of feedback he gave, plus, we have the added bonus that he’s a really nice guy to work with. From a team point of view, it was an awesome day, the last of the year, and with all the 2018 testing we did with IndyCar leading into this, so it’s been busy for us, Honda had a lot of work for us, and James was there, working with him on the intercom, and it was a really good day.”
As one of the key architects behind the team-wide refurbishing process commissioned by Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson, Phillips was pleased to see Wickens and the retooled outfit start a new chapter with a positive outcome.
“When Sam and Ric brought me in two years ago, I’d had a lot of success with the Honda brand in sports cars, but when I stepped in to IndyCar, I don’t want to say ‘stale’ is the word, but in so many cases, everybody does the same thing in the same way, year in and year out, and it was clear we needed to look above the trench – into no man’s land – and find a different solution,” he said.
“One of the key points I spoke with every new member of staff was that was the new culture we wanted, where people are asking how we can be better and make improvements in all areas. We’ve had 13 changes in the team; that’s a huge amount, 25 percent, and you ask yourself if it was too much, but it was all necessary. Yes, I’m already seeing the green shoots of progress, and with those who’ve come in, it’s a fresh mindset.”
Phillips and the rest of the SPM team will get some much-needed time away from the shop over the Christmas break. Having found the first hints that everyone’s on the right path, the Briton admits that shutting down for the holidays could be difficult.
“We’re gaining momentum, and we’ll have a few wobbles, but it’s up to me and the rest of leaders to build a foundation so we can gather ourselves and keep waking forward,” he added. “We relish the challenge, and I’m not expecting to knock doors out of windows at St. Pete, but this momentum has already started.
“And we’ll take two weeks out of the office for two weeks, but we’ll keep our minds working. It’s been a huge strain and workload all year, and I’m looking forward to shutting down the laptop, going home, putting my feet up, and having a beer. But I suspect I might open it up on Monday and send out a few emails … The work never stops, does it, but everyone here deserves a break and then it will be back at it with 2018 testing.”