When he takes the green flag on the streets of St. Petersburg on March 11, Robert Wickens will fulfill a dream several years in the making. The 28-year-old will be returning to racing in North America after more than a decade in Europe, including the last six away from single-seaters.
Wickens, a native of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, will be racing alongside childhood friend James Hinchcliffe at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The opportunity for Wickens comes after nearly two decades of racing around the world in a vast array of cars.
The racing career of Robert Wickens began in 2001, when the young Canadian took up karting. He would win championships in three of the following five seasons and won races across six different disciplines.
By 2005, he was placed on Junior Scholarship with Team Apex Racing Formula BMW USA. Wickens finished third that season, the best of all rookies, with two wins and five podiums.
Wickens would go on to win the series championship in 2006, amassing three wins, three poles and seven podiums throughout the year.
The next stop for the young Canadian would be the Champ Car Atlantic Series, where he would continue his association with Red Bull and race with Team Forsythe. After amassing a win at Portland and two additional podium finishes, he would end the season third in points.
After four races late in 2007 with Carlin in Formula 3.5, Wickens moved to the series full-time for the next two seasons, where he would earn one victory and four podium finishes. In 2009, Wickens made yet another transition to Formula 2 with Motorsport Vision. He would finish runner-up in the series with two wins, six podiums and five poles.
A 2010 move to GP3 netted him the same result with Status Grand Prix, after a season that included three wins, seven podiums and one pole. Wickens would move back to Carlin Motorsport and Formula 3.5 in 2011, and the reunion would end with a championship after he won five races and seven poles, and amassed ten podium finishes.
Wickens would transition to sports cars in 2012 and head to DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters), where he has spent the last six seasons. During his time in the series, Wickens accumulated six wins, five poles and seventeen podiums.
After being afforded the opportunity to practice with the Verizon IndyCar Series in June at Road America, Wickens would sign with the team for 2018 and use his signature number 6.
“This is an entirely new chapter to add to my racing career, and I am really excited for this opportunity that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has given me,” Wickens noted in the team’s October 18 press release announcing his hiring.
“I think everyone knows the story by now that James and I grew up racing against one another in go karts, and to make it to the largest open-wheel racing series in North America together as teammates, it’s crazy to think about. I am very thankful for the six years I had with everyone at Mercedes and DTM; those are memories I will cherish forever. I can’t wait to truly see what the Verizon IndyCar Series is all about!”
Coinciding with the announcement of Wickens’ arrival was Hinchcliffe’s contract extension, the latter expressed excitement about being able to stay with a team that he has won two races and the 2016 Indianapolis 500 driving for, but also being able to do so with his longtime friend.
“Not only am I really excited to be able to say I’ll be back with SPM for next year and beyond, but I am also really looking forward to being teammates with one of my oldest friends,” Hinchcliffe exclaimed.
“Robbie and I grew up racing against one another, eventually took different paths, me staying in North America in open-wheel cars and him going off to Europe in sports cars, but it’s pretty neat that we both ended up here and we get to live our dream of being professional racing drivers, together on the same team.
SPM’s co-owner Ric Peterson, who like Wickens and Hinchcliffe hails from Canada, also expressed excitement about the opportunity for 2018.
“We’re all very pleased to have Robert on board, and not just because he’s another Canadian,” Peterson expressed.
“He’s obviously someone who has been on our radar for some time now, and we’re excited about this new chapter in the SPM organization. We’ve been building a lot of momentum within the team and hope this latest addition will be a great next step as we move forward. I’m also really proud that we’ll be able to represent ‘Team Canada’ and be able to showcase two great Canadian athletes.”
The pairing of Hinchcliffe and Wickens represents the first Canadian drivers to be teammates since Paul Tracy and Patrick Carpentier did so for Team Forsythe in the 2004 ChampCar World Series.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ path throughout the 2018 season, and especially Wickens’ progress will be a major story to watch. Wickens will be relying on the experience of his team and his extensive racing resume as he acclimates himself to the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Images courtesy of INDYCAR.