While not much has fazed super rookie Robert Wickens thus far in the 2018 IndyCar Series campaign, the Candaian driver is beginning to feel the weight of the Indianapolis 500 as the calendar turns to May 1.
This afternoon Wickens completed his rookie orientation program after a chaotic three hour session featured three different phases of practice, a gearbox issue and a switch to his teammate James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports machine.
Nonetheless, Wickens posted the quickest lap during the morning session that preceeded the afternoon’s veteran refresher tests while running the least amount of laps between the three “rookies” that passed the program.
In completing the Rookie Orientation Program necessary for Indianapolis 500 rookies, Wickens noted the difficulties of running the car at lower speeds than normal and how that affects the car’s balance, downforce levels and handling.
“Phase I was an interesting phase,” Wickens said. “(It was) more difficult than I thought to keep the car between 205 and 210 (MPH). It’s the first time in my life that I was lifting the entire straight to then go full throttle on a corner, which was a little weird.
“I thought the 210 to 215 phase was a really good phase to learn. When you’re going that slow, you’re not really taking the line, the car kind of just goes where it wants, you’re kind of going too slowly. Once you got up to around the 215 mark, it started reacting, feeling balance issues with the car.
“Before you’re more or less cruising around at a speed where the car is not happy, they’re set to be going 220, 225. We actually have a lot less downforce on the car than what we would be when we’re doing normal laps. It was kind of a bizarre feeling.”
In a post-session debriefing with the press, Wickens was excited to mention the impression local communities have had on him when noticing their support for the Indianapolis 500.
“It’s so cool that the city of Indianapolis already embraces the race so much,” Wickens replied. “Even in the neighborhood I just moved to, there’s Indy 500 things on their front yards, IndyCar flags flying. It’s something that I’ve never experienced before. In DTM and Mercedes, it was a very popular championship in Germany, but outside of that it was not so much.
“To see Indiana embracing this race so much, it’s going to be a really special feeling.”
As INDYCAR begins to prepare for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the IndyCar Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Wickens (8th in points) is already getting excited to join the fray for the 102nd Indianapolis 500.
“I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into to be honest. I never even attended the Indy 500 as a spectator before. It’s just going to be an amazing month. Everyone always tells me June 1st, you roll out, you think, ‘What the hell happened?’ I mean, I’m just really looking forward to taking it all in.”
The 102nd Indianapolis 500 Mile Race will take place on Sunday, May 27 and broadcast live on ABC with coverage starting at 11:00 AM Eastern.
Images courtesy of INDYCAR Media.