Canadian IndyCar rookie Robert Wickens belonged atop the podium in his debut race for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Starting from pole, Wickens led five times, totaling 69 laps in the 110-lap contest, and had the makings of a fairytale beginning in his hands.
That story took an unpredictable turn when contact with Alexander Rossi during a confusing restart pitched the No. 6 SPM Honda into the wall on Lap 109. And with the Andretti Autosport driver holding on to finish third, the race’s most dominant driver was not impressed with being relegated to 18th at the checkered flag.
“Obviously it didn’t end well at all,” he said. “But the restart was the restart. I felt like I wasn’t able to get the jump that I needed to get a gap. We both were on the Push-to-Pass. He obviously got a slipstream.
“I defended a little bit, but then I realized if I went any further, it would have been a blocking, so I opened up, let him take the inside and just broke as late as possible and gave him enough space on the inside. And from my point of view, he broke too late, the track was too dirty off line. It’s been terrible there all day. It’s been a battle all weekend. Even in warm-up it was really hard whenever you tried it.
“But my opinion, he just went too deep, locked the rears and slid into me. There’s really no other explanation to it. The only pity is he carried on to a podium, and I ended up in the fence.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series handed out a penalty earlier in the race to Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon for avoidable contact. After adding more details about the Turn 1 surface conditions, Wickens found it odd that Rossi escaped without one of his own during the last two laps. And with the final race results locked into place shortly after the race with Rossi firmly in third, the case appeared to be closed.
“I was so slippery on the paint, on braking almost everywhere, but that kind of carried through the whole weekend, so it wasn’t really a big surprise, but it actually online got pretty grippy by the end in Turn 1, but on the contrary it made offline even worse,” he said.
“Passing was always tough. You never knew how hard to go or how late to do it. But I think maybe Alex found the limit because as far as I’m aware, he’s not getting a penalty for what he did, which is kind of interesting to me.”
Beyond his obvious frustration, Wickens gave credit to his SPM team that, until the race-ending contact, was on pace to record the best performance in the field after teammate James Hinchcliffe came home fourth.
“I want to make it very clear I’m very proud of the job that I did today,” he added. “I mean, there’s no – for sure I’m disappointed, but in your rookie race – also, honestly, that’s why I didn’t really fight him that hard. I gave him more than enough space on the inside because even if I finished P2, I would have been ecstatic. It’s just a shame. The day went so well, the whole weekend went so well, getting a surprise pole, and to be honest, even myself, I’m like, can I convert this into a full 110-lap race?
“And I think we’ve proved to a lot of people that we could, and the team is capable of it. I just felt like I was in a good zone today. We controlled the pace. I could build a gap when I needed to build a gap. I was hitting the fuel targets we had set and still building gaps. It was just a good day until the 109th lap.”