Late Thursday evening, Robert Wickens got his first taste of driving an Indy car since his life-altering crash in 2018. The laps came in one of the more dynamic simulation rigs on the market, and as the Canadian tells it, the time spent navigating iRacing’s Barber Motorsports Park circuit ahead of Saturday’s IndyCar Challenge race were an important first step in his career.
“It’s very early days. The sim finally was set up by SimCraft. Finished yesterday at around 3:00. I was able to put in a couple laps last night for the first time,” the Arrow McLaren SP driver said.
“It’s weird. It’s kind of a mental overload. My brain was exploding from trying to figure out how to use the handbrakes, to learn the feeling of it and everything,” Wickens explained. “A lot of work to do in a short amount of time. I was hoping I’d pick it up a lot quicker than I am. I’m spinning a lot more than I intend to. I’m just so happy that I can get back and compete with these guys. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
“The biggest thing for me is although this is fun, I see this as the long-term project of getting me back into the race car. I always knew through simulation was going to be the best way to trial different handbrake or paddle configurations. This is step one of a hundred to get me back into the NTT IndyCar Series.”
Wickens’ inspiring journey from paraplegia to regaining incremental use of his legs has kept the racing world glued to his video updates on social media. The need to drive iRacing’s Dallara DW12-Chevy — and every other vehicle — through brake and throttle controls on the steering wheel, is a learning process that will serve the 31-year-old when it’s time to go testing in a real AMSP Indy car.
“Simulation was always step number one for me,” he said. “Unfortunately, through one reason or another, it was very challenging to basically do it right. I didn’t want to purchase an Amazon setup, try to learn on that. I wanted to build a good foundation that you can evolve and make better.
“Like I said, I see this as a great training tool for me to make my hand control second nature, but I didn’t want to do it on a budget. That was always the challenge. Now obviously with what’s going on in the world, current pandemic, the simulation, the virtual racing, Esports, basically took center stage and made it all reality very quickly. I guess you could say I’m almost a beneficiary of what’s happening in the world right now. I’m excited to drive something. Last night was the first time I’ve driven any form of race car since the accident in Pocono. Even though it was virtual, it still felt pretty good.”
Wickens, along with the rest of the IndyCar field, will go racing on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET at Barber, with the event aired live on NBCSN.