Robert Wickens knew the day would come when he would win a trophy again and he was determined to make it happen. He knew he would get back in a race car, an opportunity provided to him by Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai last year, and started the 2022 season at Daytona International Speedway in the No. 33 Hyundai Elantra TCR with Mark Wilkins, earning a podium finish. in his first race. IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race.
The Canadian duo won the TCR Tioga Downs Casino Resort 120 class on Saturday afternoon, taking home their first victory together for Bryan Herta Autosport. It was an emotional win, as Wickens recovered from his crippling IndyCar crash at Pocono in 2018. Despite the struggles he faced coming back and now driving with manual controls, Wickens was never in doubt that he would win.
“When Bryan Herta and the other people at Bryan Herta Autosport gave me this opportunity to race, it was because deep down we knew we could win races and compete for wins,” Wickens said. “Internally, I wanted to start running. I wanted to win Daytona; I want to qualify on pole, fastest lap, do everything, right? That was not the reality and then from there we continue to be humiliated when we were well. [positions] to score good points, whether it’s just the top five that day, or a podium finish, or whatever. So we stayed true to ourselves and kept working internally to make sure we got the best out of our package… I’ll be honest, I was hoping it would have come sooner, but, you know, five races is good. .”
Wickens passed Wilkins in the lead, then Wilkins, who had to miss the most recent round of Mid-Ohio due to a family emergency, had to fend off a hard lunge from Tim Lewis in the KMW Motorsports Alfa Romeo.
“Robert did a great job,” Wilkins said. “He qualified very well with a lot of adversity. The lap…was amazing, and then in the race he did an amazing job. We have the car ahead, which is what we need. He got a little gap, he pitted, we had a big stop. We have been working hard on that. After missing a race at Mid-Ohio, coming back to win is a lot. It was a difficult month of May, so this one is quite special and [I’m] Really happy for Robert. You know, this is where we should be and hopefully this is the beginning of our trend of many podium finishes and race wins for the rest of the season.”
The final few minutes were certainly nerve wracking for Wickens.
“It was kind of stressful because on Peacock, it’s not like live, right? Then I could hear the IMSA radio people talking about something and I was looking down and couldn’t see it on the broadcast for a while. Because of the chair, I can’t get to the time monitors that the engineers can see. I’m just living in the past a little bit, but it was great and really, from start to finish, this was by far, I think, our most complete race that we’ve ever done…”
The victory wasn’t just emotional for Wickens and his friends and family. It was not just a special moment for the Bryan Herta Autosport Team: the joy of victory spread throughout the paddock.
“There were a couple more hugs than I think there would have been normally, but it was great,” he said. “I never think he is an inspiring person. I come here just to drive. I’m just trying to get back to what I love to do, and Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai are giving me that opportunity. It reassures me knowing that I can still win, compete and challenge, even if I drive with manual controls. It really is just the beginning of things to come.”