When Formulation One’s Juan Pablo Montoya and NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon famously swapped automobiles in a 2003 velocity demonstration on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe had been paying shut consideration.
A lot in order that the Ontario-born pair, who turned quick associates whereas on the identical go-karting staff a 12 months or two earlier, determined they’d attempt to pull off the identical stunt at some point. They usually did final 12 months, with Wickens taking the wheel of a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports IndyCar on the Sebring Worldwide Raceway and Hinchcliffe driving a Mercedes DTM coupe Autodromo Vallelunga in Italy.
However that was solely the beginning.
Wickens, from Guelph, left the German DTM collection after six seasons — throughout which he put together six wins and 15 podium finishes — and 12 in complete in Europe, to affix Oakville’s Hinchcliffe at SPM and type the “Eh Group” this 12 months.
“We simply wished to each race in IndyCar, to be trustworthy,” mentioned Wickens, admitting that he by no means put down his roots full-time in Europe and the fixed journey throughout the Atlantic was taking its toll.
‘We received our dream situation’
“For certain we wished to be teammates, as a result of we knew we would actually be good teammates together. However we each simply wished me to be in IndyCar, and fortuitously we received our dream situation and we had been in a position to race with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as teammates together.”
To date the transfer has paid off for the 29-year-old Wickens. He heads into his hometown race at this weekend’s Toronto Indy in sixth within the IndyCar factors standings, two spots forward of Hinchcliffe. He has additionally put up 5 top-five finishes, eight top-10s and was named rookie of the 12 months on the Indy 500 after taking ninth place.
Regardless of it being his first season in open-wheel racing since 2011, Wickens is fast to dismiss his new-kid-on-the-track standing.
“I am claimed as a rookie. I undoubtedly do not feel like I am a rookie. I do not have a look at the rookie championship. To not be impolite, I could not care much less about it,” he mentioned.
“I am right here to win races and hopefully win championships at some point.”
Regardless of racing in opposition to one another, Wickens mentioned being teammates with Hinchcliffe has proved to be mutually useful.
“There is a nook he’ll take that could be higher than me, [or] one which I am doing that is higher than him, then we’ll reconvene after the session discuss,” mentioned Wickens.
“And we’re each adequate drivers that we are able to study what the opposite individual is doing and be higher.”
Sustaining their friendship
Earlier than becoming a member of forces this season, the 2 managed to take care of their friendship over the course of practically twenty years by holding tabs on one another’s performances and speaking on a weekly foundation, even when dwelling on reverse sides of the Atlantic.
“We have at all times had such a pleasant, competition-based relationship. It is at all times been that, ‘something you are able to do, I can do higher,”‘ mentioned Wickens.
Each racers shall be seeking to change into solely the second Canadian to win in Toronto. Paul Tracy did it in 1993 and 2003.
Tracy mentioned in a telephone interview on Monday that Wickens has carried out effectively in races just like Toronto earlier this season. Wickens gained the pole the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida and led for 69 laps, however completed fifth after a collision with Alexander Rossi.
“It is not going to be simple however Wickens has been tremendous quick on road tracks programs all 12 months,” Tracy mentioned, “so he is received a superb shot.”
Wickens, who hasn’t raced in Canada since competing in Toronto as a part of the 2007 Champ Automobile Atlantic, would love for his first IndyCar win to return in entrance of household and associates this weekend, together with some who rented a college bus to journey to the race.
“That will be the dream,” mentioned Wickens.