Wickens, 34, who suffered a severe spinal cord injury in an IndyCar crash at Pocono in 2018, has been racing in the IMSA Challenge series with Hyundai’s factory-backed Bryan Herta Autosport team.
Having been a frontrunner and won races in his Elantra N TCR car, the Canadian is looking for an opportunity to return to a premier division of the sport – and has set his sights on the Indy 500 in 2024.
“I think doing the Indy 500 would just be an amazing opportunity,” Wickens told Motorsport.com. “If I can get on the grid in 2024 for the Indy 500, it will be 108th running of the race, and there’s never been someone [racing] with a disability.
“I never thought that would be my legacy. But if that’s what it is, I think it’d be a pretty cool thing to do. And it’d be great for spinal cord awareness.
“I think it’d be great for any person struggling with something, to show that you can achieve anything in life if you have a great support system, and a lot of hard work and a positive attitude.”
Pocono IndyCar race, 2018: Robert Wickens crash
Photo by: Todd Dziadosz / Motorsport Images
Wickens suffered horrendous injuries in the Pocono crash that included a spinal cord injury, thoracic spinal fracture, neck fracture, tibia and fibula fractures to both legs, fractures in both hands, a fractured right forearm, fractured elbow, a concussion, four fractured ribs and a pulmonary contusion.
But it was the plateauing of his neurological recovery from the spinal cord injury that has limited his muscle function in his lower extremities. He now uses a wheelchair in his everyday life, although he can stand with some support.
“For me, just to step foot into an IndyCar again, and do laps, would be an accomplishment in itself.” said Wickens. “We need to get a car adapted with hand controls, to see if it’s even possible.
“Right now, we’re in the fundraising state of trying to find a partner that’s willing to help us adapt in IndyCar because as you can imagine, it’s not free. Once we have substance, something on track, then we can start thinking about other options, other opportunities.
“From there, we can evaluate if the Indy 500 is a possibility, or maybe I get my closure in that and maybe it’s just not possible, and then we go our separate ways, and I start focusing on IMSA and other categories.”
Robert Wickens, Hyundai Elantra N: steering wheel with hand controls
Photo by: Bryan Herta Autosport
Wickens uses hand controls in his Hyundai race car, and a hand-controlled throttle has been used in an IndyCar before when Alex Zanardi completed the final 13 laps at Lausitz in 2003 – two years on from his horrific accident there that cost him his legs.
Wickens remains a regular in the IndyCar paddock through his driver advisor role with Arrow McLaren. He said that he’s enjoyed his time racing touring cars in IMSA, but added: “I feel like this is just the beginning of my life plan of returning back to that kind of elite level of motorsport again. I feel like I have unfinished business there.”
His team boss Herta, a two-time winner of the Indy 500 as a team owner, is right behind Wickens’ plan to return to IndyCars, and believes it is possible but will take some time to figure out from a technical standpoint.
“I think Robert is a tremendous inspirational story for all of us,” said Herta. “We’re interested, we’re exploring. I think everybody would love to see it.
“IndyCar has been incredibly supportive of the idea, and very open to investigating it. So, nobody’s saying ‘no, you can’t do it’. It’s been a lot of yeses. And that’s where we’re at.
“We’re talking about developing technologies that haven’t existed, or have never been used in that type of application. And it’s not something you can rush. So, the short answer is we don’t know.”
#33: Bryan Herta Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian, Hyundai Elantra N TCR, TCR: Robert Wickens
Photo by: Bryan Herta Autosport
Herta said the hand controls that Wickens currently uses could not translate to an IndyCar, so a bespoke system needs to be designed and built – and talks are understood to have taken place with car builder Dallara on the subject.
“The system that we use wouldn’t work in an IndyCar per se, for packaging and weight reasons,” he added. “And then the physical aspect is the other side, can you get out of the car the same as the other drivers? So those are things that we’re still investigating.
“I’d very much love to see Robert do it. I know he could drive the car and be extremely competitive. I have zero doubts about that. It’s all these other challenges and hurdles that we would have to figure out literally one by one.”
Source : Motorsport.com