Robert Wickens helped end a disappointing month for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports on a high note, finishing ninth to claim Rookie of the Year honors.
Starting 18th, Wickens steadily worked his way forward, getting near the top 10 in the opening 50 laps. However, a mix of pit strategies jumbled the running order midrace, causing Wickens to lose much of his track position.
And with overtaking proving to be very difficult, getting back up front was always going to be a tough task.
Regardless, the 29-year-old, along with the No. Lucas Oil SPM Honda team, took advantage of a late caution for Tony Kanaan’s Turn 2 crash to pit for fresh tire. The stop dropped them to 19th, but Wickens was able to charge back up into the top 10 by the checkered flag, eventually ending up ninth.
“In some ways I was hoping for more. In other ways it surpassed everything I ever could have imagined. It was one hell of a race. It was an emotional rollercoaster,” Wickens said of the initial Indy 500 experience.
Wickens explained further that a miscue on pit strategy, specifically pitting under a caution when many others did not, hampered their efforts significantly, and that a top five may have beckoned in the right circumstances.
“Unfortunately on one of the earlier yellows we came into the pits thinking everybody was going to do the same. Turned out we were one of the only ones that did it. Put us on an alternate strategy. We lost track position. Today track position seemed like it was everything,” he lamented.
Still, though disappointed not to finish higher, Wickens’ ninth-place proved to be a solid end to an otherwise trying month, and not only because teammate James Hinchcliffe failed to qualify – Wickens himself pounded the back straightaway wall on Monday practice after qualifying, which made pre-race prep all the more difficult.
“We had a little fumble on Monday when we hit the wall (on Monday practice). We made our lives a little bit difficult on Carb Day, into the race today not knowing exactly where our car was going to be. I thought we had a top five car all day. We were just stuck in the midfield for most of it, we just couldn’t make inroads forward,” Wickens finished.
Claiming top rookie honors continues a stellar rookie season for Wickens, who now sits seventh in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, eight points behind Ryan Hunter-Reay for fifth.