Inspired by the goal to race again and powered by courage, determination, persistence and perseverance, Robert Wickens returned to the cockpit in a Hyundai Veloster N TCR car, for the first time since his horrific IndyCar accident in 2018. Highlighted with triumphant breakthroughs and executed with laser, goal-oriented focus, Wickens completed 989 days of grueling rehabilitation anticipating today’s milestone.
A native of Canada, Robert Wickens’ stellar IndyCar debut season featured a pole position, and four podium finishes in addition to the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year title. Having transitioned back to North America from Europe where he was a Formula One test and reserve driver, Wickens’ IndyCar career looked set for championship contention. It was cut short with the horrific accident at Pocono Raceway on August 19, 2018. As a result of the accident, Wickens suffered a thoracic spinal fracture, spinal cord injury, neck fracture, tibia and fibula fractures to both legs, fractures in both hands, a fractured right forearm, fractured elbow, a concussion, four fractured ribs and a pulmonary contusion in the incident.
Through his relentless regimen of rehabilitation and therapy, Wickens has become a trailblazer in developing new technology and treatment methods for the spinal cord injury community.
The Hyundai Veloster N TCR
The #54 Hyundai Veloster N TCR equipped with hand controls, is normally piloted by International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) race winning and paralyzed Hyundai driver Michael Johnson and teammate Stephen Simpson. The team competes in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge for Bryan Herta Autosport (BHA). In collaboration with BHA, Johnson loaned the #54 Universal Coating Veloster N TCR race car to Wickens for the milestone occasion.
The hand controls consist of two custom metal rings attached to the steering wheel, which are connected to the brake pedals by a series of jointed rods specifically tailored to the Veloster. The rings allow the driver to accelerate, brake, downshift and make scores of steering inputs and corrections on a given lap. On the back side of the steering wheel is a ring that is pulled with a finger to activate the brake. On the front side of the steering wheel is another ring used to activate the throttle with the thumbs. The top corners on both sides of the steering wheel are the gear shifters – upshift on the right, downshift on the left.
Robert Wickens on the incident and rehabilitation: “Once I was taken out of my medically-induced coma, ‘When can I race again?’ was definitely on my short list of questions. I started in go-karts when I was seven and my family sacrificed so much for me . . . everyone put so much effort into me and my career, that you can’t just let it get taken away that easily. There were a lot of personal milestones, and I believe these are the defining moments in my life. At 32, I have so much more of my life to live and I intend to live it to its fullest. That is what really drove me in my rehab phase, which is still happening every day. I just knew that if I didn’t go all in on my recovery, I’d be kicking myself for the rest of my life wondering ‘What if I’d tried harder? What if I didn’t do this? Or did do that?’ This injury has been just a set-back, not necessarily a career ender.”
Robert Wickens on his return to the cockpit: “I’m appreciative of the opportunity Hyundai and Bryan Herta have provided, and a big thanks to Michael Johnson for this collaboration. It’s been a journey getting here and the experience on track today was incredibly rewarding. Working with the team, dialing the car in, gaining speed and improving the handling – it was awesome. The Veloster N TCR was a blast to drive. Once I got comfortable with the car, I began to understand what I need for my own accessibility to move forward.”
Bryan Herta: “We’re fortunate to be in a position to provide Robert a chance to get back in a race car. We knew with his expertise and ability; we’d benefit from his valuable feedback. He did a great job getting up to speed quickly, and we look forward to being a part of the next phase in his journey back to racing.”