Rookie sensation Robert Wickens has become a powerful force for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. A polesitter on his season debut and holding sixth in points going into the Texas oval, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear Wickens’ talents are attracting attention elsewhere in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock.
At least one team — reigning series champions Team Penske — has been widely rumored to covet the Canadian’s services. Just as SPM’s Simon Pagenaud left after his three-year contract was up to join Penske’s operation, could The Captain acquire another SPM driver for the right price?
“It’s a multi-year deal and we don’t have any intention of letting him go,” SPM co-owner Sam Schmidt told RACER. “He’s everything we could possibly hope for and more. Sometimes you roll the dice and make a mistake. Fortunately, we didn’t.
“Nobody was knocking his door down over here [in IndyCar] after Mercedes announced it was ending its DTM program after 2018, and he wanted to come back to open-wheel, but nobody else was listening.”
After making steps forward each season with Pagenaud, SPM felt a sting when the Frenchman chose to leave for Penske in 2015. In an interview with RACER earlier in the year, a five-year contract for Wickens was mentioned by Schmidt and regardless of its actual length, the goal is to give the 29-year-old no reason to look elsewhere once free agency approaches.
“It’s one thing for people to knock on his door, and it’s another thing to have the resources and people to put behind Robert to make a successful program,” Schmidt continued. “We have 15 or 16 partners making that possible. I’ve had days where people leave for Penske or Ganassi or Andretti and say they’re going because their spouse thinks they’ll find better stability at one of those teams.
“We’re building a new shop, making big investments in engineering and development, and with our partners, we’ve been able to offer multi-year deals to create that stability — not only to the drivers — and we’re spending a lot to improve in every capacity. That’s the environment we believe will make it attractive in the years to come for our team to get bigger and better.”
With Wickens and SPM veteran James Hinchcliffe leading the charge, Schmidt is convinced the chemistry and skills brought by the IndyCar newcomer will have the team in contention for a championship in the near future.
“We had Robert for a day at Road America when he subbed for Mikhail [Aleshin], and we’d tested him at Sebring next to Pipo Derani, who was also really good and equally as fast,” he said. “There’s a lot of good guys out there, and I’m not downplaying what [Robert’s] done, but what I am saying is there were choices to be made on who to pick, and look at what he’s accomplished already. He’s totally a special find. It was a huge risk by our team and our partners, and we’re glad it’s paying off.”