Back in 2018 the Canadian up-and-comer Robert Wickens suffered one of the worst crashes in motorsport in recent years. It has taken years of rehab for him to regain full control of his body, and watching him continue to push himself to better has been a total inspiration. While he hasn’t quite got full strength back in his legs, Wickens is now strong enough to once again drive a racing car fitted with hand controls for throttle and brake. On Tuesday during an all-Hyundai track day at Mid Ohio he climbed aboard a Veloster N TCR race car built by Bryan Herta Autosport.
Robert Wickens had the career trajectory that many young racers would do anything for. After showing a lot of success in open wheel junior series, he was selected as a reserve driver for the Marussia Virgin F1 team. While he never made it to F1 as a racer, he was selected by Mercedes to race as a factory driver in DTM where he competed for six seasons. When that program came to its end, he headed to IndyCar, nabbing a prestigious seat at Schmidt Peterson (which is now the Arrow McLaren SP team).
Fourteen races into his rookie season, Wickens was caught up in a huge wreck, and his car spun up into the catch fencing. While the driver’s safety cell remained intact, he was injured substantially. As a result of the crash, he suffered a thoracic spinal fracture, a neck fracture, tibia and fibula fractures to both legs, fractures in both hands, right forearm, elbow, and four ribs, as well as a pulmonary contusion, and an indeterminate spinal injury. He announced that he was paraplegic as a result of the spinal and neck injuries in October of that year. Despite not being able to finish out the season, he’d already collected enough points in 2018 to be named IndyCar rookie of the year.
Wickens has said many times that as soon as he was taken out of his medically-induced coma, he asked when he would be able to race again. His dedication to himself and this sport has never wavered, and getting back to racing has been one of his main motivational forces to regain control of his lower extremities. While he’s able to walk with crutches and ride a stationary bicycle, he isn’t quite ready to push pedals with force.
Robert Wickens on his return to the cockpit: “I’m appreciative of the opportunity Hyundai and Bryan Herta have provided, and a big thanks to Michael Johnson for this collaboration. It’s been a journey getting here and the experience on track today was incredibly rewarding. Working with the team, dialing the car in, gaining speed and improving the handling – it was awesome. The Veloster N TCR was a blast to drive. Once I got comfortable with the car, I began to understand what I need for my own accessibility to move forward.”
Bryan Herta: “We’re fortunate to be in a position to provide Robert a chance to get back in a race car. We knew with his expertise and ability; we’d benefit from his valuable feedback. He did a great job getting up to speed quickly, and we look forward to being a part of the next phase in his journey back to racing.”
The Hyundai, as raced by paraplegic driver Michael Johnson, features hand controls for throttle and brake, as well as shifter buttons on the steering wheel. Johnson and Bryan Herta Autosport made the car available for Wickens to drive on track for the day. The 300-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder pumps all of its power through the front wheels, and while it’s a far sight slower than Wickens’ old IndyCar, it has got to feel good to get back up to speed again.