Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver, Robert Wickens, has stated that he is still getting used to being back in a single seater racing car as he prepares for his rookie season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
The Canadian, who has raced in DTM for the last six years prior to earning an IndyCar seat, says that there are a number of areas that he still has room for improvement in as he continues pre-season testing in the #7 Honda at Sebring International Raceway.
“It’s definitely starting to come back,” Wickens told motorsports.com after his first run in the 2018 Honda, “but the first run each session feels a little weird – like it’s not yet my ‘home’. But I’m getting there. Like, the first test I did in December, I felt like that all morning, but in yesterday’s test that feeling lasted just for the initial run and then I got settled in.
“It’s just a physical thing, after being in a touring car for six years. The steering-wheel placement and how far laid back you are in an IndyCar takes some familiarization. But it’s coming along and this morning my first runs were competitive and throughout the whole day we were there or thereabouts.
“We had a hiccup in the morning – and I blame James [Hinchcliffe, teammate]! He’s been doing a lot of testing in the Honda test car which is now my car, and one of the fastening points for the floor got pulled out at some point, and it got repaired but the repair failed, so we lost some time getting that fixed.”
Wickens then went on to specify that one of the areas he was struggling the most with was the new tyre compounds underneath him. Not only is he switching from DTM’s Hankook tyres to IndyCar’s Firestone tyres, but the rubber itself has different demands in single-seater racing compared to touring cars:
“I’m having a hard time getting my head around what the tyre likes to get a good lap time.” Wickens continued, “I’ve been hearing that there’s various driving styles that work, but there’s one that works the best, and figuring out how to do that is hard. It’s kinda the opposite of how I like to drive and how I’ve been driving for the last six years.
“So that’s a big work in progress because for me to be comfortable, I default to how I like to drive. But if that’s apparently not the quickest way to drive an IndyCar, then at every corner I have to rethink my braking application, rethink everything, and do something that’s not yet natural. I’m having to reprogram my head.
“My used-tire pace is pretty respectable, but struggling to make a big cut in lap time on new rubber is the big task. I mean, yeah, it improves, but probably not as much as it should.”
Wickens will be hoping that he can continue his learning curve throughout the remaining pre-season tests. After Sebring, IndyCar testing will move on to both California’s Sonoma Raceway and Arizona’s ISM Speedway; the latter being the first pre-season test held on an oval. Before Robert starts to think about the ovals, however, he must get to grips more with some of the basics, such as long runs:
“I probably haven’t done a run longer than eight laps, so far,” Robert he said, “because we’ve been trying so many setup changes. So although I’m often out on track with worn tires, they’re getting a chance to cool down between runs. You do a full-stint life of the tire, but it’s going through several heat cycles.
“Ultimately, as usual, it’s going to come down to the team and driver who can find the best balance on the cars and extract the best lap time in quali and keep the tires in best shape in the race.
“I know there’s a lot left to improve on my side, extracting lap time and being consistent, but also working with James and the engineers to give us a slightly better car, because it’s not exactly where we need it to be right now. It’s a work in progress for all of us right now.”
Wickens’ IndyCar Series race debut will come in the season-opening round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, the Grand Prix of St Petersburg on March 11.