After more than three years of punishing rehabilitation efforts, Robert Wickens is ready to make his return to professional motor racing with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai.
The Canadian completes BHA’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge driver roster and will share the No. 33 Elantra N TCR with countryman and IMPC champion Mark Wilkins. The deal completes Wickens’ journey back to the sport he loves, chronicled in countless videos posted to his social media channels, after a torrid IndyCar crash at Pocono in 2018 left him paralyzed below the waist.
Since the accident, exhaustive efforts to regain strength and movement in his legs have consumed most of Wickens’ time, culminating in a test last year at Mid-Ohio in a BHA Hyundai Veloster N TCR outfitted with throttle and brake controls affixed to the steering wheel that confirmed Wickens could express his speed and natural abilities through hand-operated systems.
The next step, thanks to the support of Hyundai and Herta’s expansive six-car TCR operation, was to make Wickens the offer he’d been working to receive since 2018.
“I’ve spent a lot of nights thinking and dreaming of this moment, and with the support from Bryan Herta and Hyundai it is all becoming a reality,” Wickens said. “I am hungrier now than I was before my accident to compete for wins again. I’m really looking forward to incorporating myself with the entire Bryan Herta Autosport team and finally get my first taste of the Hyundai Elantra N TCR.”
Herta admits to shedding a few tears after seeing Wickens get behind the wheel of one of his cars last year, and with the 32-year-old from the outskirts of Toronto signed to his team, more tears are likely to follow during the 10-race IMPC calendar.
“Today is a monumental day for us as a team and as fans of Robert Wickens,” Herta said. “We have followed along with Robert’s rehabilitation and marveled at his determination and dedication, along with his many, many fans. To now announce that he will be making his professional motorsports return in one of our Hyundai Elantra N TCR cars is truly incredible. We thank Hyundai for their amazing support and helping us build a path for Robert to get back to where he belongs.”
Wickens and Wilkins will kick off their partnership later this month at Daytona in the four-hour IMPC season-opener. From BHA’s side, running the duo of Stephen Simpson and Michael Johnson, who lost the use of his legs in a motorcycle racing accident, last year has given the team a wealth of experience in tailoring the cockpit to suit Johnson’s needs with hand controls and Simpson’s needs for pedals to actuate with his feet.
Johnson and Simpson return to BHA in the No. 54 Elantra N TCR as one of its six entries, giving the team the unique opportunity to field two cars featuring drivers whose mobility challenges have been overcome through technology.
“The No. 33 Hyundai Elantra N TCR has been fitted with a custom hand-control system designed by BHA Technical Director David Brown and Development Technician Jonathan Gormley,” the team explained. “The system features a custom metal ring connected to the brake pedal by a series of rods specifically tailored to the Elantra. The ring is attached behind the steering wheel that is pulled with fingers to activate the brake.
“Two linked throttle paddles and shift paddles, all attached behind the steering wheel, allow the driver to accelerate, shift and make steering inputs. The system also features a switch for Mark Wilkins when he takes over the cockpit in pitstops that deactivates the hand throttle. The Elantra will accelerate and brake using the traditional foot pedals when Wilkins is driving.”
The news of Wickens’ full-time arrival in IMSA was received with great enthusiasm by the series president.
“Everyone here in Daytona is very pleased to welcome Robert to the IMSA family and endurance sports car racing,” John Doonan told RACER. “Robert is an absolute inspiration and a shining example of a ‘never give up’ attitude given all that he, his wife Karli, and their family have faced over the last couple of years. To watch his progress through his physical therapy sessions is simply remarkable. As a fellow racer, I commend Robert for his spirit and what he has accomplished thus far in his career, and I am so eager to see what he is going to accomplish in the many years to come.”
BHA heads into the new season with a quest to defend the 2021 IMPC TCR championship earned by Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis and earn its fourth consecutive title for Hyundai.
In addition to driving for BHA, Wickens will continue his driver coaching and advisement role with Arrow McLaren SP, and will be present at all IndyCar races that don’t clash with his IMSA schedule.