Equipped with customized hand controls, Robert Wickens found himself behind the wheel of a car again; just not the car he would have liked. Before the engines roared to life for the Honda Indy Toronto Grand Prix, Wickens drove an Acura RSX around the 11-turn street course to cheers and standing ovations from his countrymen.
Since the horrific wreck at Pocono that found Wickens developing paraplegia, he has made it clear that the end goal of his recovery process is to get back into an IndyCar and be competitive.
Also, he would like to dance with his wife at their wedding on his own two feet. Arguably, the more important of the two.
When Wickens returns behind the wheel of a race car full-time, he will join drivers like Alex Zanardi, Evan Evans, and most recently, Billy Monger. All drivers who have all come back to the sport and found themselves as winners.
Alex Zanardi, a two-time CART champion before his accident and amputation of both legs, went on to race in the WTCC (World Touring Car Championship). He collected four wins during his five-season with the series from 2005-2009. Most recently, Zanardi competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona driving the BMW M8 GTE, where problems with his customized steering wheel hindered his team during a pit stop. He came away with a 9th place finish in class.
Evan Evans, the first person that came to my mind when thinking about disabled drivers, is the winningest truck class driver in SODA (Short-Course Off-Road Drivers Association) history. He also won the Class 13 Championship in that series. During Evans’s CORR (Championship Off-Road Racing) career, he collected 22 wins and finished runner-up in the Pro-2 championship four different times during his career. Evans has paraplegia.
Billy Monger, currently racing in the Euroformula Open Championship, became a double amputee after his accident during a race weekend at Donington Park. He has not only recovered from his accident but had become a winner again in his young open-wheel career using customized hand controls.
There is no doubt that Wickens believes that he can come back and be successful. The question for me is in what discipline will he find this success?
Again, Wickens has a desire to come back to the NTT IndyCar Series but can he? The question is not meant to be mean but realistic. With the absence of power steering within the NTT IndyCar Series, will he be able to race on the various configurations that they run on?
It would not surprise me to find Wickens driving in IMSA. Possibly for Meyer Shank Racing in the GTD classification because of their affiliation to Acura and business affiliation to Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports. I initially had this thought when it was announced that Acura had built a custom RSX for him to drive in Toronto. This situation could be a win-win for all parties involved.
For Acura, they would have a driver to help develop, test, and implement multiple options for impaired individuals who drive their road cars everyday. For Wickens, there would be a manufacture that would support him in his racing endeavors. For Arrow, an electronics company and the current title sponsor for Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports could and should be interested in providing the necessary electronic components to advance this endeavor for Wickens and Acura.
Not only is a comeback to racing possible, but it is more than doable. Wickens has the support of his family, friends, and a loyal fan base. But don’t count out the support he has from his car owner of Sam Schmidt, who has quadriplegia himself. I’m sure he would love nothing more than to give the gift of racing back to someone who lost it like himself.
photo credit: Robert Wickens Official Twitter Page