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Wickens driven to break through at Honda Indy Toronto

(via The Star) – Canadian driver Robert Wickens is officially a rookie on the IndyCar circuit — but that’s a misnomer.

The 29-year-old from Guelph, who set the 13th-fastest time in a field of 23 during Friday’s practice for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto at Exhibition Place, was a champion just one level below Formula One in 2011 and got a feel for the Toronto circuit more than a decade ago.

In 2007, after winning the Formula BMW USA championship, Wickens picked up sponsorship from Red Bull and drove in the Champ Car Toyota series at the Ex. He says the circuit is virtually the same today, although the stakes are much higher.

“It would be a dream come true,” he said in an interview about the possibility of winning Sunday’s race close to home.

Part of the challenge, he added, will be psychological.

For the first time in more than a decade, many of his old friends from Guelph — who haven’t seen him race in person because he’d been competing in Europe — will be in attendance, along with his entire family.

“The big thing is, mentally, not to try too hard,” he said. “Trying to get results because it’s Toronto and people are there to watch you can be counterproductive. Whenever you try to overachieve, you start making mistakes. Weird things will start happening. You’ll put too much pressure on yourself.

“I’m going to approach the weekend as I do all the time, and take it one session at a time. It’s been my approach my whole rookie season and I don’t see any reason to change.”

It’s been quite a rookie season for Wickens, racing for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with best friend James Hinchcliffe of Oakville as a teammate. Wickens set the IndyCar world on its ear when he won the pole for his first race at St. Petersburg, Fla. in March. He was actually winning the race late, but crashed out on the final lap. He’s had some more tough luck along the way, but still managed to crack the top five in five events: a second-place finish at Phoenix, third on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, fourth at Alabama and two fifths — at Road America in Wisconsin, and last weekend on an oval speedway in Iowa.

One thing he has to “get better at” — as he put it — is handling situations beyond his control. In Iowa, he was running third with a few laps to go when the pits opened during a caution and he ducked in for fresh tires, anticipating a restart that never came.

In 2007, after winning the Formula BMW USA championship, Wickens picked up sponsorship from Red Bull and drove in the Champ Car Toyota series at the Ex. He says the circuit is virtually the same today, although the stakes are much higher.

“It would be a dream come true,” he said in an interview about the possibility of winning Sunday’s race close to home.

Part of the challenge, he added, will be psychological.

For the first time in more than a decade, many of his old friends from Guelph — who haven’t seen him race in person because he’d been competing in Europe — will be in attendance, along with his entire family.

“The big thing is, mentally, not to try too hard,” he said. “Trying to get results because it’s Toronto and people are there to watch you can be counterproductive. Whenever you try to overachieve, you start making mistakes. Weird things will start happening. You’ll put too much pressure on yourself.

“I’m going to approach the weekend as I do all the time, and take it one session at a time. It’s been my approach my whole rookie season and I don’t see any reason to change.”

It’s been quite a rookie season for Wickens, racing for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with best friend James Hinchcliffe of Oakville as a teammate. Wickens set the IndyCar world on its ear when he won the pole for his first race at St. Petersburg, Fla. in March. He was actually winning the race late, but crashed out on the final lap. He’s had some more tough luck along the way, but still managed to crack the top five in five events: a second-place finish at Phoenix, third on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, fourth at Alabama and two fifths — at Road America in Wisconsin, and last weekend on an oval speedway in Iowa.

One thing he has to “get better at” — as he put it — is handling situations beyond his control. In Iowa, he was running third with a few laps to go when the pits opened during a caution and he ducked in for fresh tires, anticipating a restart that never came.

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