IMSA’s four-hour Michelin Pilot Challenge season-starter, traditionally held the day before the Rolex 24 at Daytona, will have quite a few interesting driver combinations to look forward to, in what is always a manufacturer “winner take all” prelude to the nascent twice-around-the-clock winter classic.
Announced today, former NTT INDYCAR SERIES combatant Robert Wickens will make his first competitive outing since his crash at Pocono Raceway in August 2018. In that accident, Wickens has worked hard to overcome a thoracic spinal fracture, a spinal cord injury, a neck fracture, tibia and fibula fractures in both legs and fractures in both hands. He’ll be driving a hand-control-equipped Hyundai Elantra N TCR for Bryan Herta Autosport, sharing the No. 33 car with fellow Canadian Mark Wilkins for the entire 2022 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season.
After his accident, Wickens was first on-site for the following year’s Indianapolis 500, to support his INDYCAR team, now known as Arrow McLaren SP, and he has documented his recovery from that devastating crash on social media. Since coming to Indy for the Indy 500 in 2019, Wickens has made many trips to INDYCAR races. “I know I’m a competitor. If I don’t give myself a level of competition, I felt like I wouldn’t possibly work hard enough to get to the level where I am today,” Wickens said.
Bryan Herta Autosport, the three-time IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge (IMPC) champions, first prepped a car for Wickens to try out in May of last year. Once he evaluated the No. 54 BHA Hyundai Veloster N TCR using hand controls, Wickens felt he was capable of returning to action with BHA in the No. 33 Elantra.
“This is a monumental day for us as a team and as fans of Robert Wickens,” Bryan Herta, team owner said. “We have followed along with Robert’s rehabilitation and marveled at his determination and dedication, along with his many, many fans. We thank Hyundai for their amazing support and helping us build a path for Robert to get back to where he belongs.”
Wickens, a former Formula One test driver, amazed the INDYCAR community with his skills in his rookie, 2018 season. Despite the accident, he was named Rookie of the Year for his four podium finishes, his Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honor and earning pole position, leading all but two laps in his first INDYCAR series race in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The custom hand-control system in the No. 33 Hyundai Elantra N TCR is designed by BHA technical director David Brown and development technician Jonathan Gormley. It features a custom metal ring that is connected to the brake pedal by a series of rods specifically tailored to the Elantra. The ring is attached behind the steering wheel, and 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 features a switch for co-driver Mark Wilkins, one that deactivates the hand throttle during driver swaps at pit stops, allowing Wilkins to use traditional foot pedals.
This year BHA’s 2022 driver lineup features a total of six Elantra N TCR entries that will be used to defend the team’s trifecta of series titles, as BHA vies for Hyundai’s third straight manufacturers title.
“I’ve spent a lot fo nights thinking and dreaming of this moment, and with the support from Bryan Herta and Hyundai it is all becoming a reality,” Wickens admitted. “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 getting my first taste of the Hyundai Elantra N TCR.”