With the September 16 season finale at Sonoma Raceway left, much is to be determined in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series. There is, however, one major accolade clinched.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Robert Wickens was crowned Sunoco Rookie of the Year on Tuesday.
Despite missing the last two races, Wickens is 110 points ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach in the rookie standings. The Guelph, Ontario native has been hospitalized with injuries suffered in a violent crash on August 20 at Pocono Raceway.
Wickens becomes the sixth Canadian to win Rookie of the Year. The last to do so is his teammate and friend James Hinchcliffe. Hinchcliffe did so in 2011 with Newman-Haas.
After joining the Verizon IndyCar Series from Germany’s DTM ranks, Wickens started his freshman campaign in thrilling fashion.
The 28-year-old, who had not driven an open-wheel car full-time since 2012, started the on the pole at St. Petersburg. Wickens joined Nigel Mansell (1993) and Sebastien Bourdais (2003) as the only IndyCar drivers since 1956 to start first in their first race.
Wickens led 69 laps before contact with Alexander Rossi relegated him to 18th in the finishing order.
Three weeks later, he continued to impress in his first oval start.
At ISM Raceway, Wickens led 44 laps and finish second to Josef Newgarden. It would be Wickens’ first of four podiums in 2018.
In May, Wickens followed up a third-place finish at the IndyCar Grand Prix by earning a ninth-place finish at the 102nd Indianapolis 500.
Despite qualifying 18th, he would work his way through the field and lead two laps. Wickens became the first SPM driver to be awarded Rookie of the Year for the race.
He also became the third Canadian to receive the award. Alex Tagliani was the last to do so in 2009.
Most recently, Wickens earned consecutive podiums for the first time in his career. In July, he finished third at the Honda Indy Toronto. Two weeks later, he equaled his career best with a runner-up at Mid-Ohio.
Wickens adds his name to the likes of Simon Pagenaud and Tristan Vautier. Both drivers previously earned Rookie of the Year honors with SPM in 2012 and 2013.
In a statement released on Tuesday, team co-owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson lauded Wickens’ efforts this season.
“When Robert joined this team, we had the highest expectations set for him to achieve,” the statement exclaimed.
“Having Robert clinch the Sunoco Rookie of the Year with one race left on the 2018 calendar after missing the last three races, it’s just a testament to how hard he’s worked this season to set him up for a strong finish.”
“The dedication, effort and energy he puts into his race craft, working with the team and his teammates, and all the above-and-beyond work he’s put in with our partners and the fans, we couldn’t ask for a better addition.”
The team also expressed optimism in regards to Wickens’ future recovery.
“We are proud of all that Robert has achieved this season, and we look forward to welcoming him back upon his full recovery. The No. 6 entry will be there waiting for him whenever he’s ready.”
Open-Wheels would like to extend our best wishes to Robert Wickens and his family as he continues his recovery.
Header Image By Shawn Gritzmacher/INDYCAR