Robert Wickens has secured the Sunoco rookie of the year honours for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series with one race remaining in the championship. The Canadian is now unable to be caught by his rivals in the rookie of the year standings, despite having missed the last few races due to injuries sustained in his heavy crash at Pocono Raceway.
IndyCar’s rookie of the year award has presented every year since 1979, with legends such as Bobby Rahal, Arie Luyendyk, Nigel Mansell, Jacques Villeneuve and more having already taken the accolade, joining more recent winners such as Simon Pagenaud, Gabby Chaves, Alexander Rossi and Ed Jones. Wickens’ team-mate James Hinchcliffe also took the title back in 2011.
Wickens looked likely to be taking the honours for 2018 right from the get-go at the season-opening race, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, back in March. Despite having not raced a single-seater car since the end of 2011, when he left Formula Renault 3.5 to compete in DTM, Wickens got up to speed straight away and took pole position in qualifying. Robert went on to dominate the race and was looking to take an incredible win on debut until a late-race crash with Alexander Rossi on a restart put Wickens in the wall and out of the race.
The second race of the season was perhaps even more impressive than the first for Robert. Even though he had no prior oval racing experience, except for a pre-season test, Wickens took an incredible second place at ISM Raceway, only losing the lead to the race-winner, Josef Newgarden, as the reigning champion had newer tyres. Between taking a pole position and fighting for potential wins in both races, it was a sensational start for the Canadian; one that earned him plaudits from the media, his rivals and the fans.
Wickens spent his remaining races of the year frequently running in the higher positions of the top ten. He took three more podium finishes at the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit, his home race on the streets of Toronto and at Mid-Ohio, with a further six top ten finishes adding to his total tally of ten across the fourteen races he entered.
Robert could have easily added to his impressive numbers in the remaining three races of the season, however, his horrific crash at Pocono Raceway in August saw the Canadian break both of his legs and his right arm, whilst also sustaining a bruised lung and spinal injuries. Wickens has undergone several surgeries since the accident and was recently transported from Pennsylvania to the IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis to be closer to his home.
Despite being ruled out of the last three races due to his injuries, Wickens’ points tally in the rookie standings has been high enough to keep him out of reach of his rivals. Fellow rookie Zach Veach‘s nineteenth-place finish in last weekend’s Grand Prix of Portland means that the gap between the pair is now insurmountable, with Veach 110 points behind with 104 points available in the finale at Sonoma Raceway.
Upon hearing the news that Wickens had secured the 2018 Sunoco rookie of the year honour, his team, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, released a statement congratulating their driver for his outstanding results this year and to further affirm that they would be ready to have him back in one of their cars as soon as he was fit to return.
“When Robert joined this team, we had the highest expectations set for him to achieve,” the team’s statement read. “Having Robert clinch the Sunoco Rookie of the Year with one race left on the 2018 calendar after missing the last three races, it’s just a testament to how hard he’s worked this season to set him up for a strong finish. The dedication, effort and energy he puts into his race craft, working with the team and his teammates, and all the above-and-beyond work he’s put in with our partners and the fans, we couldn’t ask for a better addition.
“We are proud of all that Robert has achieved this season, and we look forward to welcoming him back upon his full recovery. The No. 6 entry will be there waiting for him whenever he’s ready.”
In Robert’s absence, SPM has drafted Carlos Munoz to be the substitute driver of the #6 Honda. Munoz raced to twelfth place on his return at Portland and will be looking to finish strongly in the final race at Sonoma.
The 2018 Grand Prix of Sonoma will take place on Sunday, September 16.