If winning his first IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR race last week at Watkins Glen was amazing, Robert Wickens can barely begin to describe the week that followed.
Wickens and teammate Mark Wilkins had been at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park early in the week after having driven straight from Watkins Glen, doing activities for Hyundai Canada. On Thursday, Wickens received an unexpected call from his wife, Karli — They were expecting sooner than they were expecting.
Wickens drove late into the night to get back to Indianapolis to be there for the birth of his first child, Wesley Joseph Wickens. With mother and baby doing fine, Wickens jetted back to CTMP to race in today’s Canadian Tire Motorsports Park 120. He and Wilkins weren’t expecting much. Not only had he missed the track walk and not turned a lap in the car all weekend, but missing qualifying meant Wickens would start at the back of the field anyway.
Sometimes reality defies expectations, or in this case the lack thereof. Despite all odds, Wickens and Wilkins scored their second-consecutive win in the No. 33 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Elantra N TCR — the two Canadians able to celebrate victory on home soil.
“It’s a fairytale, really,” he said in victory circle. “I think the win at Watkins felt very deserved. You know, we’ve worked hard. We’ve been there every race this year, and then it finally clicked and we got that win. Then we thought, you know, let’s take this momentum into our home race. Everything was going great. Mark and I drove straight to Canada to start the promo and the press tour for Hyundai Canada. We were up here at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, doing all the media, everything like that Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday ahead of the race. And then Thursday, we’re on our way to the track just to start the normal routine and track walk. And I got a call I wasn’t expecting from my wife after her scheduled doctor’s appointment, saying that delivery date’s been pushed up. ‘So I need you home. I need your home tomorrow morning.’”
Wickens first laps in the car, at a track he last raced at more than a decade ago, were the pace laps.
“That’s the first of my career to do the race without ever doing a track walk or anything, literally not turning a lap ahead of the formation lap to the race. And I feel like I’ve been driving for a long time. So thankfully, it ended up well. My only goal was to keep the car in one piece to give Mark a shot at the win. We had some fortunate breaks. I feel like I capitalized well on restarts, because it was really hard to pass; everyone was so closely paced. I picked the right place right time, had some fortunate breaks to get through some GS traffic, and we found ourselves in the top three. Once I got into the top three, I was just zero risk, making sure I kept the car alive for Mark because I knew we were in for a shot at a result there,” he said.
This weekend is IMSA’s first visit to CTMP since 2019. After having not been able to race here, Wilkins getting the win only a couple of hours drive from his hometown, with his wife Leah and kids in attendance, was special — made doubly so by helping his teammate celebrate the birth of his son with something much better than a cigar.
“A win at home is always something you want to get,” Wilkins smiled. “But it’s never easy. I don’t even know the last time I won here. It’s been a long time, and it’s a tough track. I mean, those first few laps in practice are always eye-opening in terms of speed, and still the element of risk here is so high, but man, it just feels great. I got in a good groove; Robert was in a groove. I feel like we kind of inspire each other a bit. He just does such a great job, and so if he can do it, I can do it. So let’s go; let’s do it.”
Now Wickens says he’s ready to get back home and start changing diapers. He says he’s grateful to the Bryan Herta Autosport team for all they did, especially in not putting any pressure on him to race, saying family comes first. But race he did — with a fairytale ending.