IndyCar rookie Robert Wickens admits that his car’s gearbox gremlin and switch to teammate James Hinchcliffe’s car – along with the nature of the IMS Rookie Orientation Program – made his first of IMS practice more complicated than he expected.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Rookie Orientation Program decrees that track newbies complete 10 laps between 205 and 210mph for Phase 1, 15 laps between 210 and 215mph for Phase 2, and 15 laps at 215mph-plus.
However, a gearbox issue on the #6 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports-Honda meant Wickens’ team had to hastily switch him to Hinchcliffe’s car to complete the ROP within the three-hour timeframe.
“James wasn't even at the track when we switched, he had no idea,” said Wickens. “I think everyone at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is one team, one dream…
“We had to scramble a little bit to get James' car ready because it wasn't scheduled to be going on track, so we had to do some quick fixes and get everything ready to go.
“It wasn't ideal because we didn't really do a seat fit for me in his car. Apart from the seat going in, everything was more, ‘Get on with it, get the orientation done.’ We were actually a little pressed for time to get all the phases through in the time allocation we had.”
Wickens admitted that he had underestimated the difficulty of running slower speeds in Phase 1.
“[It’s] more difficult than I thought to keep the car between 205 and 210[mph],” he said. “It's the first time in my life that I was lifting the entire straight to then go full throttle on a corner, which was a little weird. But then you learn.
“I thought the 210 to 215 phase was a really good phase to learn. When you're going that slow, you're not really taking the line, the car kind of just goes where it wants, you're kind of going too slowly.
“Once you got up to around the 215 mark, it started reacting, feeling balance issues with the car. Before, you're more or less cruising around at a speed where the car is not happy. They're set to be going 220, 225.
“We actually have a lot less downforce on the car than what we would be when we're doing normal laps. It was kind of a bizarre feeling.”
Wickens switched to IndyCar after a spell in the DTM and he compared the extensive preparation for the Indy 500 a similar to the Nurburgring Nordschleife.
“[It] might be a surprise to a lot of people, but to race at Nurburgring Nordschleife, it's like a one-week course,” he said. “aYou actually have to go around in a bus, get a lesson on every single corner by certified instructors, you have to get a license to race there. This is no different.”
The #5 SPM-Honda was also pressed into service in the afternoon to allow Jay Howard to successfully complete his Refresher course.