“I’m very busy, for sure,” Johnson said. “My hands are moving a lot, but I’m used to it. That’s going to be a big thing for Robert to get used to: how all the controls work; how to synchronize everything.”
Coming to grips with hand controls may well be the least daunting challenge Wickens faces in resuming his career as a race driver. And yet, it was a day he never doubted would come.
“Once I was taken out of my medically-induced coma, ‘When can I race again?’ was definitely on my short list of questions,” Wickens said. “I started in go-karts when I was 7 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. This injury has been just a setback, not necessarily a career ender.
“I believe these are the defining moments in my life,” continued Wickens, who has regained limited use of his legs and feet. “At 32, I have so much more of my life to live and I intend to live it to its fullest. That’s 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?’”
But for the generosity of Herta, Hyundai and Johnson, Wickens might still be in the what-if stage of his goal of getting back behind the wheel of a race car. Upon his return to racing last year as a consultant to the Arrow McLaren SP IndyCar team, Wickens renewed his many friendships throughout the paddock, including those with Herta and his business partner George Steinbrenner IV – both co-owners of an IndyCar team along with Michael Andretti. When Johnson joined Herta’s IMSA team this season, it opened the door for Wickens’ track day.
“Being a racer and a down-to-earth guy, Bryan realized this was a really cool opportunity,” Wickens said. “So, he and George reached out to see if I would like them to consider asking Michael Johnson if I could borrow his precious car for a few laps. Then the ball started rolling but it’s all down to generosity on many different fronts that made this happen.”
So it was that, two days after Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward scored his first IndyCar win at Texas Motor Speedway, Wickens arrived at Mid-Ohio to find Mother Nature had dished up a curveball: A thunderstorm in the wee hours of the morning, coupled with dank, overcast conditions later on, left the track decidedly damp.
“Wet conditions make it extremely difficult for me to get the right feel,” said Johnson. “That’s one of the biggest hurdles that I’m trying to get over to this day. ... That may be similar for Robert.”