Ahead of his first race in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge later today, Robert Wickens has stated that Sim Racing is “step one of 100″ on his journey to returning to the NTT IndyCar Series in the future. Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury after a horrific crash at Pocono Raceway in 2018 and is continuing his rehabilitation in the hopes of returning to racing.
The IndyCar iRacing Challenge began last Saturday at the virtual Watkins Glen, as IndyCar kicked off its eSports alternative to fill the void left by the lack of real racing due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Sage Karam dominated the race from pole position, but one absence from the grid was Wickens. Robert had planned to race last Saturday, but when a partner pulled out of a deal that would’ve seen Wickens supplied with a modified steering wheel with hand controls, he was forced to sit out.
Now, with a setup that includes a handbrake accompanied with a Fanatec wheel and SimCraft motion rig, Wickens is ready to race at the virtual Barber Motorsports Park. In a media teleconference yesterday, Wickens expressed his excitement at getting back to some form of racing and went on to explain that he had always viewed sim racing as a step that he would need to take on his road back to IndyCar racing.
“I’m just excited to drive something,” Wickens said on Friday. “Last night was the first time I’ve driven any form of race car since the accident at Pocono. Even though it’s virtual, it still felt pretty good.”
“Simulation was always step No. 1 for me, but unfortunately, through one reason or another, it was very challenging to basically do it right. I didn’t want to purchase an Amazon setup and try to learn on that. I wanted to build a good foundation that you can evolve from because I see this as a great training tool for me to make my hand control second nature.”
Wickens would add later: “I always knew that through simulation was going to be the best way to try all the different handbrake configurations or paddle configurations so this is really just step one of 100 to get me back into the NTT IndyCar Series.”
One man who Wickens praised for helping him out whilst he was trying to get his Sim Racing setup together is Max Papis; former IndyCar race winner as well as a prior Sportscar and Formula 1 driver. In 2009, Max founded Max Papis Innovations, a company that supplies, amongst other things, steering wheels for both real and simulation racing. Max engineered a custom Sim Racing steering wheel that incorporated a throttle paddle on the back of the wheel; similar to that previously used by Alex Zanardi.
Now, after testing a few setups, Wickens has opted for a car control setup that uses a throttle paddle on the back of the wheel and a separate handbrake lever off of the wheel. Yesterday, Wickens gave his thanks to Papis for his efforts in helping him get started in Sim Racing:
“I think I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but the fact that I have so many people supporting me on my return to this is amazing,” Wickens said. “When Max found out that I was in the market for a steering wheel, he jumped on and just got to work. He actually had already been doing stuff in the background that I wasn’t even aware of. He already had the hardware in his shop. I guess he was just waiting for me to reach out.
“He’s such a good guy. He’s a competitor at heart and although he’s retired from the cockpit, I think he sees his entrepreneurship as a new form of competition. He wants to be the best in the industry and he works hard, and I think he’s doing a great job.”
Wickens will drive the virtual #6 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet in today’s race at Barber Motorsports Park. The race will be broadcast live on NBCSN in the United States at 2:30 PM Eastern. Coverage for international viewers has not been revealed as of yet.