While unpredictable at times, Wickens’ comeback was predicted. During his recovery, Wickens appeared at an IndyCar race in March 2019 and talked about returning to racing with a car equipped with hand controls for the brakes and throttle.
“There have been so many remarkable drivers that have succeeded with hand controls,” Wickens said then. “It makes me believe that regardless of how my progression goes, I will be in a race car again. It’s just a matter of which car.”
It happened in 2022, in a specially equipped Hyundai from Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian. At first, Wickens felt he was making rookie mistakes. As time went on, though, he became sharper, quicker and more precise. At 34, he became a champion with an unlimited future.
“I would be more than happy to return back with (team owner) Bryan (Herta) and Hyundai and try to fight to protect our championship,” Wickens said. “I would love the opportunity to get into the (IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship) in some way, shape or form.”
The details of his future are unknown, but the recent past was all about consistency. Wickens and Gottsacker pieced together a championship without winning a race in the No. 33 BHA Hyundai. Six runner-up finishes in a 10-race season have a way of adding up to a championship.
“It just goes to show how strong we were as a team,” Wickens said. “We went through a lot of adversity. We didn’t have a perfect season, but we had very good damage limitation when we needed it. I think that really was the deciding factor.”
A few other deciding factors were there, too: A racer who wouldn’t stop racing. A racer who’s still fast and skilled. A racer who has a championship in hand and an immeasurable future ahead. The championship brought it all together – past, present and future.
“For me it hit pretty deep because of what I had to come through over the past five years with injuries, learning a new life and trying to get back to the career I once had,” Wickens told CTV. “I’m not in the business of motivating or encouraging people, but I love the fact that I can raise awareness for spinal cord injury through competing, not through just being there and representing. I want to represent the community by winning championships and competing and showing an injury doesn’t have to define who you are. You can do anything you set your mind to.”
As the championship celebration last month at Michelin Raceway slowed down, BHA chief operating officer Sean Jones put everything into perspective.
“We’ve won a few, but this one is a bit special,” Jones said. “Everyone knows Robert’s story.”