The Canadian duo of the charismatic James Hinchcliffe and sensational rookie Robert Wickens have made up possibly the most interesting team in the IndyCar paddock in 2018.
Hinchcliffe, 31, continues to be an energetic fan favorite while starting to put together results that would indicate he is reaching the prime of his career while Wickens, 29, has been every bit the well-advertised product we waited for during the offseason.
Together they have made Schmidt Peterson Motorsports a legitimate contender for poles and podiums during this 2018 championship, though the race results have not always told the weekend story.
For Wickens, his Friday at the INDYCAR Grand Prix went relatively smoothly with the former DTM driver slotting in at 4th quickest in the combined practice results after 34 laps of testing. In many cases this year, Wickens has practiced respectably, qualified well and finished the race with poise.
Hinchcliffe, on the other hand, has had to work a lot harder though practice and qualifications while the race results have still been admirable. Such was the case on Friday, when the No. 5 ARROW Honda driver struggled over the same two practice sessions while his teammate found the pace.
Hinch was only 20th on the timesheets after 33 laps of practice yesterday, and was erratic is the second stanza of the day while missing the braking point and even spinning in Turn 1.
Nonetheless, Wickens continued his torrid pace on road and street courses this season and was beat out by Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course master Will Power by less than one tenth of a second for the Verizon P1 Award.
This was a bit of a surprise for the No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda driver as his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports group wasn’t particularly strong in the road course test at IMS earlier this spring.
“To be honest, I have all the faith in my Schmidt Peterson Motorsports guys that we’d be competitive, but it wasn’t a particularly strong test from us,” Wickens remarked. “Like you said, I didn’t do it because of an injury, so kind of an unknown coming here. But we seem to do this time and time again at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, where kind of a bad rehearsal and then a good gig the next time around.
“So in the end, I was very happy with the car, I mean, all day, right from pre-practice — to be honest, in practice we struggled with it, but we turned it around, and then was feeling great in the qually, felt really good, and then unfortunately in Q3 I made a mistake on the first lap, which made me do a second lap, and so far I’ve been getting the lap time on lap 1 on the reds, and basically just missed it.
“But bittersweet. I feel like a jerk being upset with second place, but I think when you go quickest in your first two quallies, you kind of hope to finish the job off.”
What was even more impressive was to see Hinchcliffe and his team vault up the leaderboard, into the Firestone Fast Six and finally to a fourth place grid position for today’s INDYCAR Grand Prix.
While he couldn’t admit to enjoying difficult practice sessions in 2018, Hinchcliffe commended his team for its resiliency and how important it is to have a formidable sidekick like Wickens to lean on from time to time.
“We’re kind of making a bit of a habit of this, and it would be a whole lot easier on everybody in the engineering office if we just started strong right away and went from there,” Hinchcliffe said.
“Yeah, we didn’t have a super awesome test a couple weeks ago, and we rolled off the truck with some balance problems for sure, and then in P2 we had a problem with the brake system, and I just couldn’t get out of my own way.
“I was off track more than I was on it. It was unfortunately nothing we could fix in the session, and it just goes back to what Robby (Wickens) said about how great this team is. To have a teammate that you can rely on as much as that, he was obviously very quick in P2, we really had to rely on them because we weren’t able to develop our car at all in practice 2, and we went out in qualifying not really knowing if the car was going to stop the way that I was kind of hoping it was going to and had to learn little bit by little bit, but still, we closed the gap to the guys up front, and to end up where we did.
The continuity of this Schmidt Peterson Motorsports unit has been on full display in 2018 with Hinchcliffe currently fifth in the points standings while Wickens is 8th in the championship as the highest placed rookie after four rounds.
Even more remarkably, the team is making an example of the fact that practice doesn’t always have to be perfect. For Hinchcliffe, all that matters is the end result – and they have been getting it in thus far in 2018.
“It was a really bad day to have a bad day, and it started off pretty bad. But we dug ourselves out again, two cars in the Fast Six. I think there’s only one race so far that this team hasn’t been in the Fast Six, so just can’t thank everybody at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Honda, Arrow Electronics enough.”
Images courtesy of Walter Kuhn/INDYCAR Media.