Robert Wickens soars to Pilot Challenge title

A little over five years removed from sustaining spinal cord injuries from an IndyCar Series accident at Pocono Raceway in 2018, Wickens hoisted his first-ever championship to cap off a drama-filled season last Friday at Road Atlanta.

Wickens and co-pilot Harry Gottsacker, driving the #33 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Elantra N TCR, came in with a 20-point lead over closest rivals Chris Miller and Mikey Taylor in the #17 Unitronic/JDC-Miller Motorsports Audi RS 3 LMS TCR. The title hopes for the BHA duo were raised leading up the green flag when Miller, the class-winning pole-sitter, retired with a mechanical issue.

Needing only to finish in the top eight, Wickens took over for the final stint and prevailed through rain and rivals en route to coasting to a fourth-place finish to lock up his first title, and fifth consecutive drivers’ and teams’ championship for Bryan Herta Autosport.

“I think from the moment the #17 had their issues at the beginning of the race, our entire mindset to win this race shifted,” said Wickens, 34. “It became just protection. We didn’t need to get on the podium. We didn’t need anything. We just needed to be in the top eight.

“For me, I was just leaving a lot of margin, barely hitting apex curbs, exit curbs, just to try to keep tires and splitter, fresh, like just anything in case there’s a late safety car or anything that could come in. I know this weekend we’ve been bending some wheels on apex curbs throughout the lap, so I was making very sure that wasn’t going to be the case for us. But yeah, the second I put my helmet on before we got into my stint, the goal was top eight. It wasn’t anything more than that.”

#33: Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian, Hyundai Elantra N TCR, TCR: Robert Wickens, Harry Gottsacker

#33: Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian, Hyundai Elantra N TCR, TCR: Robert Wickens, Harry Gottsacker

Photo by: Jake Galstad

Although Wickens and Gottsacker failed to visit Victory Lane, they delivered a staggering six runner-up results over the 10 races.

“If you look back through the year, there was obviously a couple that slipped away in the closing stages that, when you watch replays, maybe I could have done things differently,” Wickens said.

“But I’d much rather have this feeling right now than the short-term ecstasy of winning a race. No, it doesn’t bother me at all. Obviously, in the moment it bothers me when you lose a race late, but to stand here as champions, to me it doesn’t matter at all.”

Even though Wickens earned two wins as a rookie last year, he reflected on “uncharacteristic mistakes” as lessons that shaped him better for this season.

“This year, I felt like I was just a more ironed out professional and I think the results speak for that,” Wickens said. “Harry and I, we barely put a wheel wrong all year. When we did, we put our head down and we corrected our wrongs and that’s what got us in championship contention and made the difference.

“You know, I don’t know what that means for my career moving forward, but I’m very proud of what we achieved this year in particular, because I know that this year was a much harder year than it was for us last, in terms of car performance and competition. Going into this season, the entire top three TCRs scored more points to date than the champion of 2022 did at the same time. So, just goes to show like a lot of good people were scoring points throughout the way. It wasn’t kind of a runaway like in the GS class.

“The fact that there’s so many championships up for grabs, anyone really could’ve taken it. It was nerve-wracking day, but for us, the nerves calmed down quite a bit right after the green flag, which made our lives a little easier.”

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Regarding what’s next for his career, that remains an unknown, but Wickens is open to defending the title or vying for a seat in the IMSA SportsCar Championship.

“That’s a good question,” Wickens said. “I know in the short term I’m going on a Disney cruise with my wife and son on Sunday. So, regardless of how this race went, I was going to have fun next week. But no, I would be more than happy to return back with Bryan and Hyundai and try to fight to protect our championship.

“You know, I would love the opportunity to try to get into the WeatherTech series in some way, shape, or form. I don’t know, is the answer to that. I wish I could have a better answer for you.”

Sean Jones, co-owner of BHA, joined the post-race press conference and shared, “I do think we have a contract for you to sign, but..”

Then, a member from Turner Motorsports, who were at the press conference after winning the GS drivers’ title, chimed in, “It has another zero on it; the champion’s zero.”

To which Jones smiled and said, “No more zeros. We’re out of zeroes.”


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