(via INDYCAR.com) – Twelve years ago, Robert Wickens kissed the bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He wants to do it again.
Wickens barely missed the Verizon P1 Award on Friday for the INDYCAR Grand Prix, recording a lap less than a tenth of a second behind pole winner Will Power. Still, Wickens will start on the front row when the Verizon IndyCar Series race begins Saturday afternoon.
“It’s bittersweet,” Wickens said. “I feel like a jerk being upset with second place, but when you are quickest in your first two (qualifying rounds), you hope to finish the job off.”
Wickens and his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate James Hinchcliffe started the day slowly, with series rookie Wickens posting the 16th-fastest lap and Hinchcliffe the 20th-fastest lap in the opening practice. Wickens improved to fourth in the second session, while Hinchcliffe still struggled at 18th best.
By the time qualifying rolled around, though, both drivers advanced to the Firestone Fast Six, the last of three knockout qualifying rounds. Wickens posted a lap of 1 minute, 9.9052 seconds (125.604 mph) in the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn IMS road course. Hinchcliffe was clocked at 1:10.0858 (125.281 mph) in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda and will start fourth.
“It goes back to having a teammate you can rely on like that,” said Hinchcliffe, who experienced braking issues and went off course during the second practice session. “I really had to rely on him.”
In 2006, Wickens won a Formula BMW USA race during the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix weekend, ending the race with the traditional kissing of the yard of bricks at the start-finish line. On Friday, he said he didn’t expect to be as quick as he was, especially after the troublesome morning practice session.
“It was kind of an unknown coming here,” Wickens said. “But we seem to do this time and time again at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. We have a bad rehearsal and then play a good gig the next time around. In the end, I was very happy with the car.”
In March, Wickens sat out of a test on the IMS road course because of an injury. He indicated after Friday’s qualifying that missing the test didn’t affect him, mostly because Hinchcliffe participated in the test and gathered data for the team.
“I talked to the driver coach and spoke with James, and he gave me his reference points,” Wickens said. “I just basically started there. It was actually surprisingly pretty fast to get up to speed. … Our working relationship is so good that I asked James where he was braking in Turn 1 and he said it was 350 (feet) at the test. I started there, so I was right there at the get-go. I didn’t have to creep up to anything.
“It’s a great job by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, both of us in the Fast Six,” Wickens added. “And both of us have some good opportunities for tomorrow.”
The 85-lap race airs live on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday. Tickets remain available for the race at IMS.com.