Imagine being Robert Wickens. You’ve taken the pole position for your debut IndyCar race, and you’ve lead nearly the entire race with smooth driving and good strategy. You’re taking the restart in the lead with just two laps remaining, and all you have to do it make it through the first corner and you’re basically home free. Then, Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi makes a hail Mary move down the inside into the braking zone, gets loose, and Forza-Onlines his car directly into your right hand side-pod. Spun, in the wall, race over, you lose. You’d be pissed, right?
Thankfully the Canadian Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver was calm and collected in the aftermath of the incident which cost him the race victory. Rossi claims Wickens moved over on him, while Wickens says he simply thought Rossi would have treated him better. It was a low-percentage move by Rossi, but I can’t exactly fault him for trying to make it work.
St. Petersburg is kind of a terrible race track for, you know, actual racing. Like most street circuits, it is tight and doesn’t allow for much passing. Unlike others, however, there is a long straight with a deep braking zone into a sweeping right hander to a 90 degree left hander. It’s really the only place to pass on the whole circuit. With just two laps to go, the restart was essentially Rossi’s best shot of taking the win. He had to take it, and he had to make that risk. That’s what racing is.
Sadly, the move didn’t pay off for either driver, as Wickens was dumped into a spin that saw him stopped in the wall at the outside of turn 1, and Rossi lost ground to Sebastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal, ultimately settling back into third. Seconds later, the caution flags are out again for the stopped Wickens car, and Bourdais is declared the winner.
Rossi was not given a penalty, as the series deemed the contact a simple racing incident. I feel awful for Wickens, but I also think this was the right decision. It was a dumb move, but a move that had to be made.