Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda’s Robert Wickens has admitted he’s having to adapt his driving style to the IndyCar as he attempts to extract the most pace from new tires.
The Canadian, who has won in Atlantics, GP3 and was champion in Formula Renault 3.5, has said his mental switch back to open-wheel racing is not yet complete.
Despite having arguably the best junior open-wheel record of any North American export to Europe in the past several decades, Wickens says his six years in the DTM championship means the cockpit of an IndyCar still feels initially unfamiliar.
“It’s definitely starting to come back,” he told Motorsport.com, “but the first run each session feels a little weird – like it’s not yet my ‘home’.
“But I’m getting there. Like, the first test I did in December, I felt like that all morning, but in yesterday’s test that feeling lasted just for the initial run and then I got settled in.
“It’s just a physical thing, after being in a touring car for six years. The steering-wheel placement and how far laid back you are in an IndyCar takes some familiarization.
“But it’s coming along and this morning my first runs were competitive and throughout the whole day we were there or thereabouts.
“We had a hiccup in the morning – and I blame James [Hinchcliffe, teammate]! He’s been doing a lot of testing in the Honda test car which is now my car, and one of the fastening points for the floor got pulled out at some point, and it got repaired but the repair failed, so we lost some time getting that fixed.”
Asked if he’s yet able to get the best out of a new set of Firestones, Wickens responded: “I think that’s where I’m struggling the most, actually. I’m having a hard time getting my head around what the tire likes to get a good lap time.
"I’ve been hearing that there’s various driving styles that work, but there’s one that works the best, and figuring out how to do that is hard. It’s kinda the opposite of how I like to drive and how I’ve been driving for the last six years.
“So that’s a big work in progress, because for me to be comfortable, I default to how I like to drive. But if that’s apparently not the quickest way to drive an IndyCar, then at every corner I have to rethink my braking application, rethink everything, and do something that’s not yet natural. I’m having to reprogram my head.
“My used-tire pace is pretty respectable, but struggling to make a big cut in lap time on new rubber is the big task. I mean, yeah, it improves, but probably not as much as it should.”
Wickens said he hasn’t yet been able to gauge how well he can preserve a set of tires to be quick over a whole stint because of how short his runs have been.
“I probably haven’t done a run longer than eight laps, so far,” he said, “because we’ve been trying so many setup changes. So although I’m often out on track with worn tires, they’re getting a chance to cool down between runs. You do a full-stint life of the tire, but it’s going through several heat cycles.
“Ultimately, as usual, it’s going to come down to the team and driver who can find the best balance on the cars and extract the best lap time in quali and keep the tires in best shape in the race.
“I know there’s a lot left to improve on my side, extracting lap time and being consistent, but also working with James and the engineers to give us a slightly better car, because it’s not exactly where we need it to be right now. It’s a work in progress for all of us right now.”