Robert Wickens won for the first time since suffering a spinal cord injury in 2018 by teaming with Mark Wilkins to win the TCR class Saturday in the Michelin Pilot Challenge at Watkins Glen International in New York.
Wickens was a promising IndyCar rookie when he was injured in an airborne crash into the fence at Pocono Raceway in his 14th race. He had scored four podiums that season, nearly won the opener until he spun with a lap remaining and was sixth in the IndyCar standings at the time of the crash.
Although he has some use of his legs, Wickens uses a wheelchair and Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai spent more than a year working on a program to get him back into competitive racing. Using an Elantra fitted with hand controls, Wickens made his debut in January with Wilkins at Daytona International Speedway.
Wickens and Wilkins, both Canadians, beat Tim Lewis in the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce by 0.0374 of a second as Lewis put a hard charge on Wilkins over the closing laps of the two-hour race. Wickens watched from his wheelchair next to the Herta timing stand after driving the first half of the race.
"It's like a milestone win," Wickens said. "It's not the most emotional one I've had for some reason; maybe because I was sitting when we crossed the finish line. I think it's different as a driver with the adrenalin and everything."
He said watching Wilkins preserve the victory was "pretty nerve-racking because the Alfa was massively quick on the straights."
"Mark did such a good job," Wickens said. "I was just happy that I gave him the car in one piece and in good shape and let him do the rest. So I wasn't that nervous."
Back where we belong... VICTORY LANE! Unbelievable day. We've known we could do this from the start. Mega work by @MWilkins to keep us out front in the final laps.— Robert Wickens (@robertwickens) June 25, 2022
Thank you to @BHA and @Hyundai for a fast race car!
This isn't the finish line. We want more!@IMSA | #ImBack pic.twitter.com/8ybk9WppLs
Wickens started third in class but took the lead during his stint before handing the Hyundai over to Wilkins with 57 minutes remaining. The best finish for the 33-year-old Wickens this season through four races had been a third-place with Wilkins in the season opener at Daytona.
Wickens' last professional win came in 2017 when he drove at the Nurburgring in Germany in the DTM touring car series in Europe.
Bill Auberlen and Dillon Machavern earned the overall win to give Turner Motorsport its first victory of the season.