Running well but not winning races presents a proverbial double-edged sword in racing. Drivers and teams leave race weekends extremely optimistic after running well, especially doing so on a consistent basis. The frustration of not earning a victory does remain, no matter how long the success continues. In 2018, Robert Wickens has seen that play out at times during his rookie season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver has posted one of the strongest seasons from a rookie in IndyCar history. Despite several strong runs, Wickens is still seeking his first career Verizon IndyCar Series win.
In Sunday’s 90-lap race, Wickens started fifth and led 15 laps. Ultimately, he was 12.8285 seconds behind Alexander Rossi when the checkered flag flew. With that effort, the Guelph, Ontario native equals his career-best finish from April at ISM Raceway. The finish at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course also earned Wickens his fourth podium finish of the 2018 season.
Through 13 races, Wickens has by far been the most impressive driver in this year’s rookie class. He leads all first-year drivers in almost all major statistical categories this season and has been in contention for multiple wins, but has yet to close the deal.
Mid-Ohio would see more of the same for Wickens. Although he ran up front throughout the day, victory remained out of his grasp. In the 90-lap event, Wickens and his team would run the race on a three pit-stop strategy in contrast to Rossi pitting jsut twice. After the race, Wickens would elaborate on his team’s utilization of the three-stop strategy.
“We didn’t think two (pit-stop) strategy was going to be our best race today, so we very early committed to three,” Wickens explained. “That’s why we started the race on used reds.”
Thoe 15 laps at the front on Sunday marked the first time Wickens has paced the field since the June 9 race at Texas Motor Speedway. In that race, he led 31 laps before a crash with Ed Carpenter ended his day on Lap 172.
“I’d like to think we’ve been having strong races all season,” he noted of his season to date.
“Iowa, had a top-five there, then back-to-back podiums. This is three podiums in a row now. Things are working well.”
With four races remaining in the season, Wickens sits sixth in points (114 behind Scott Dixon). A late-season surge to the championship remains unlikely. Wickens still has a few races left to finish the season on a high note.
For Wickens and the No. 6 Honda-powered entry, nothing would be more of a positive than to earn a spot in victory lane before the season ends. The rookie is quick to admit that the desire to win does not correlate with any pressure to do so.
“I want to win. That’s the big thing. But I’m not under pressure to win a race. I’m just trying to do the best job I can every day.”
After ovals at Pocono and Gateway in August, the season ends with two natural terrain road courses at Portland and Sonoma. Wickens only has prior race experience at Portland.
Like the other drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series who have raced at the 1.964-mile road course, Wickens last raced at the track in 2007.
His experience came in the Atlantic Series, which served as a feeder series for ChampCar. In that weekend’s doubleheader, Wickens earned two Top Five finishes, including his lone win in the series. Wickens’ post-race remarks put a premium on running well at the track on September 2, but he was quick to admit the race served as a major unknown.
“I mean, we’re going to have to put our heads together to make anything happen in Portland. It’s going to be a wild card for everybody. We’re just going to have to wait and see.”
If his performance in Sunday’s race at Mid-Ohio is any indication, Wickens will be in a strong position to end the season with continued success. His first IndyCar victory may be on the horizon before season’s end as well.
Header Image By Chris Jones/INDYCAR Media