Robert Wickens, who has taken pole for his first ever IndyCar race, said he was surprised to be so quick in the damp but drying conditions at St. Petersburg, but he had made the most of the conditions facing the Firestone Fast Six.
The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda driver, who was a winner in every open-wheel series in which he competed before six years in DTM touring cars, edged Will Power to pole by 0.0703sec to claim pole for his first ever IndyCar race. He was one of three rookies to shine in the wet Q2 session to reach the Firestone Fast Six.
Said the former World Series by Renault 3.5 champion: “I think the 2018 package is one less disadvantage for a rookie, know what I mean? I've never been to St. Pete, somewhere Will Power has had, what, seven poles here? So I mean, how can you kind of compare that [experience]?
“But by the same token, temporary circuits change from year to year, new bumps appear, it's all different from year to year, so your lines will change from time to time.
“The big thing for me, do I feel I earned it? Absolutely. You have to do the best job in the conditions that you have.”
Wickens, who told Motorsport.com last month that he was struggling to extract the most pace from a fresh set of tires, said that he had headed into qualifying aiming for the Top 10.
“I've only ever used the red tire once and that was yesterday afternoon – and I did a terrible job at it! I didn't know what to expect, and then in this qualifying session, because it was such mixed conditions, in my opinion it kind of leveled the playing field for us [rookies], at least for me…
“I learned from my mistakes and was able to put a good lap in Q1, which got me into the fast 12, and from there it was just chaos – half wet, half dry. I like those conditions a lot. As a kid my whole career I've seemed to excel in that type of session, and thankfully the team and everyone on the Lucas Oil car did a great job getting us on track at the right time with the right tire.”
Wickens said that beyond his test miles, he had also done a lot of preparation to learn a track he’d never raced on before.
“Did I expect to qualify pole in my first IndyCar race? No. But I would have been disappointed if I was outside of the top 10 just because that's the kind of person I am. I'm a perfectionist, I am kind of OCD when it comes down to my career and everything on that front.
“I was working hard over the winter, Monday to Friday, watching IndyCar races online on YouTube, anywhere I could find them, just trying to learn. I think I watched like eight years of St. Pete in two days, just trying to figure out anything, see if I could find trends or lines or tricks or whatever the case is.
“But that’s something I always do on every single track… Even if I wasn't a rookie, I would still probably watch races from previous years. It wasn't like something new.”
Wickens agreed his diverse career that included winning in Atlantics, GP3, F2, A1GP as well as WSR 3.5 contributed to his knowing exactly how to drive in the strange track conditions.
“I find it a little bit weird to call myself a rookie at 28 years old!” he remarked. “I've always been comparing myself to the ‘normal’ guys, not to the rookies. Not once have I asked ‘Where's the fastest rookie?’ It's just something that doesn't interest me at all, because I'm striving to be better than that. I'm not here to win a rookie championship; I'm here to challenge and do the best job I can in the overall championship.
“Sure, my experience must have helped, but my entire career I've always seemed to perform well in these type of conditions, the mixed, wet, dry, when there's only one minute left and you get one more lap and the track is two seconds faster than the lap before, typically those have kind of been where I've seemed to excel.”