Robert Wickens knew the day would come when he would lift a trophy again, and he was determined to make it happen. He knew he would return to a race car – an opportunity offered by Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai last year – and started the 2022 season at Daytona International Speedway in the No. 33 Hyundai Elantra TCR with Mark Wilkins, winning a podium in his first IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Race.
The Canadian duo won the Tioga Downs Casino Resort TCR Class 120 on Saturday afternoon, earning their first win together for Bryan Herta Autosport. It was an emotional win, given Wickens’ fight back after his crippling IndyCar crash at Pocono in 2018. Despite the struggles he faced coming back and now driving with manual controls, Wickens never doubted that he would win.
“When Bryan Herta and the other people at Bryan Herta Autosport gave me this opportunity to race, it was because we knew deep down that we could get there to win races and compete for wins,” said Wickens. “Internally, I wanted to go full speed ahead. I wanted to win Daytona; I want to qualify on pole, do a fast lap, do it all, right? It wasn’t reality and from there we kept getting put down when we were in good shape [positions] to score good points, whether it’s just the top five that day, or a podium, or whatever. So we stayed honest with ourselves and continued to work internally to make sure we get the most out of our package…I’ll be honest, I was hoping it would come sooner but, you know, five races, it’s good .”
Wickens handed over to Wilkins in the lead, and then Wilkins, who had to miss the final round at Mid-Ohio due to a family emergency, had to fend off a heavy load from Tim Lewis in the KMW Motorsports Alfa Romeo.
“Robert did a great job,” Wilkins said. “He qualified very well with a lot of adversity. The lap… was amazing, then during the race he did a wonderful job. We have the car up front, that’s what we need. He had a bit of a gap, stung – we made a great save. We worked hard on that. After missing a race at Mid-Ohio, coming back for a win is a lot. It was a tough month of May, so this one is quite special and [I’m] just very happy for Robert. You know, that’s where we should be, and hopefully that’s the start of our trend of a lot of podiums and race wins for the rest of the season.
The final minutes were admittedly nervy for Wickens.
“It was a little annoying because on Peacock it’s not like live-live, is it? And so I could hear people from IMSA radio talking about something and I was looking down and I couldn’t see it on the stream for a while. Because of the chair, I can’t access the timing monitors that the engineers can see. I just live a bit in the past, but it was just awesome and really, from start to finish, it was by far, I think, our most complete run we’ve done…”
The win wasn’t just emotional for Wickens, his friends and family. It wasn’t just a special moment for the Bryan Herta Autosport team – the joy of victory swept through the paddock.
“There were a few more hugs than I think there normally would have been, but it was awesome,” he said. “I never thought I was an inspiring person. I come here just to drive. I’m just trying to get back to what I love to do, and Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai give me that opportunity. It’s reassuring for me to still be able to win, compete and challenge, even if I’m driving with manual controls. This is really just hopefully the start of what’s to come.