Robert Wickens Returns To Racing With Bryan Herta Autosport teaming up with Mark Wilkins
TREMENDOUS NEWS FOR ROBERT WICKENS’ FANS – ALL CANADIAN LINE-UP IN THE NO. 33 HYUNDAI ELANTRA N TCR IMSA MICHELIN PILOT CHALLENGE
Bryan Herta Autosport (BHA) and Hyundai Motor North America, announced today that Robert Wickens will co-drive with fellow Canadian champion Mark Wilkins in the 2022 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.
We mentioned Bryan Herta Autosport was stepping up from a 4-car team to a 6-car team on a previous post when they confirmed Mark Wilkins was to drive for the team for a fifth season.
“Today is a monumental day for us as a team and as fans of Robert Wickens,” said Bryan Herta, president of BHA. “We have followed along with Robert’s rehabilitation and marveled at his determination and dedication, along with his many, many fans. To now announce that he will be making his professional motorsports return in one of our Hyundai Elantra N TCR cars is truly incredible. We thank Hyundai for their amazing support and helping us build a path for Robert to get back to where he belongs.”
Wickens made headlines last May when he was invited by Bryan Herta Autosport to drive a racecar for the first time since his accident back in 2018 at Pocono where he suffered several critical injuries namely a thoracic spinal fracture, spinal cord injury, neck fracture that left him paralysed. Wickens’ perseverance and persistence has led to triumphant breakthroughs in his relentless regimes of physical rehabilitation and therapy that continues daily. Wickens and his team of therapists and trainers have become trailblazers in developing innovative technology and treatment methods for the spinal cord injury community.
The no.54 Hyundai Veloster N TCR he drove was fitted with hand controls. “It’s something I could not say no to and luckily with te help of Michael Johnson, Bryan Herta Autosport had a car already equipped with hand controls,” mentioned Robert. “On May 2021, we arranged a track day. It was a lot of fun! It was a rainy miserable day but there was still a big smile on my face and it was all thanks to Hyundai and Bryan Herta Autosport.”
“I’ve spent a lot of nights thinking and dreaming of this moment, and with the support from Bryan Herta and Hyundai it is all becoming a reality,” said Wickens. “I am hungrier now than I was before my accident to compete for wins again! I’m really looking forward to incorporating myself with the entire Bryan Herta Autosport team and finally get my first taste of the Hyundai Elantra N TCR.”
The #33 Hyundai Elantra N TCR has been fitted with a custom hand-control system designed by BHA Technical Director David Brown and Development Technician Jonathan Gormley. The system features a custom metal ring connected to the brake pedal by a series of rods specifically tailored to the Elantra. The ring is attached behind the steering wheel that is pulled with fingers to activate the brake. Two linked throttle paddles and shift paddles, all attached behind the steering wheel, allow the driver to accelerate, shift and make steering inputs. The system also features a switch for Mark Wilkins when he takes over the cockpit in pitstops that deactivates the hand throttle. The Elantra will accelerate and brake using the traditional foot pedals when Wilkins is driving.
“The system we are developing now for the 2022 season is going to be a lot more as I remembered driving where your hands are properly on the wheel and will leave much more space at the front of the wheel to be able to talk to the team on the radio and adjust your switches,” commented Robert.
Robert is looking forward to the competitiveness of the Michelin Pilot Challenge : “I think the Michelin Pilot Challenge is an incredibly competitive championship. Bryan Herta Autosport is the benchmark team of where you need to be in that series and then you have drivers like Mark(Wilkins, NDLR) that I’ve known my entire career. He has always been that step ahead of me on the road to be a professional driver and I know what he is capable of and there are 10-15 equivalents of him driving in this championship so I am happy to be part of it.”
Asked what needs to be accomplished at the Roar test, it is all about getting used to the Hyundai Elantra N TCR and to get confortable with the control but also relying on his teammate Mark Wilkins : “For me, the checklist at the Roar is not only to get used to the Hyundai Elantra N TCR but to get a good feeling for the brakes and tuning that in. I think Mark Wilkins has such a great feel for the car. A lot of the set-up work will end up on his shoulders and for me to acclimatize and getting used to it. Hopefully it won’t take me too long and I can help contributing to the feedback into the balance of the car. I definitely trust his judgement as he’s been one of the leaders at Bryan Herta Autosport for many years now and it’s a privileged to be his teammate.”
Speaking of Mark Wilkins, we asked Robert about their friendship : “Mark and I go way back racing karts as kids in the Toronto area. We did different kart clubs growing up but we were always aware of eachother. He then moved up to cars and Him and James Hinchcliffe, I believe were teammates at one stage and I was still in karting and I was always looking up to them and the results they were achieving. Funny story. whenever I went to Mark’s home kart track, everytime I register I got put in the timing and scoring as Robert Wilkins and that was my default name everytime I went to that track because Mark Wilkins was there.”
“He’s such a talented guy, I’d rather have Robert as a teammate than having to compete against him,” Mark Wilkins said. “The word I always use with Robby is “inspirational”. A word a lot of people use just to show his tremendous progress, how committed and focus he is to get back in a car. It is really neat to share the car with him because I know he will be right up to speed and confortable with the car quickly. He is just such a focused, devoted, dedicated guy. How can you have a better teammate, honestly. I am very excited.”
Asked about who is to qualify for the first race, Robert answered smiling : “We”ll answer that question once we hit the track, I guess!”
Watch this interview of Robert Wickens speaking about his return to racing.
For Canadian fans, you will be able to see the no. 33 Hyundai Elantra N TCR with Robert Wickens and Mark Wilkins at CTMP during the SportsCar Grand Prix on July 1-3.
The first outing for the Canadian duo will be at the Roar coming up on January 21-23 at Daytona International Speedway where they will be preparing for the first event of the season the following weekend. The 4-hour BMW M Endurance Challenge At Daytona will take place on Friday January 28th at 1:35pm.
Image and video footage courtesy Bryan Herta Autosport
Video montage: James Davidson