Shawn Langdon ends Top Fuel winless drought at U.S. Nationals

NHRA Shawn Langdon
Jenna Watson/IndyStar via USA TODAY SPORTS NETWORK
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INDIANAPOLIS — Shawn Langdon powered to his first Top Fuel victory since 2016 on Sunday, beating Leah Pruett in the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Langdon had a 3.705-second run at 326.32 mph against Pruett for his 17th career win at second at Indy.

“There’s been a lot of hard work that has gone into this team,” NHRA driver Shawn Langdon said. “We’ve had an awesome car the entire weekend and it’s just a great team. How much work they put into this, it’s really impressive. This is an awesome deal, and when I hit the gas I knew we had it as long as we didn’t smoke the tires.”

Jack Beckman won in Funny Car, Erica Enders in Pro Stock, and Scotty Pollacheck in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Points leader Beckman beat J.R. Todd with a 3.908 at 327.35 in a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat for his second victory of the year and 32nd overall.

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Enders raced to her first victory of the season and 27th of her career, topping Matt Hartford with a 6.606 at 208.55 in a Camaro.

Pollacheck rode an EBR to his first career victory, going 6.790 at 200.53 in the final round against Andrew Hines to break the track speed record.

NHRA Shawn Langdon
Shawn Langdon celebrates with Kalitta Motorsports owner Connie Kalitta after Langdon’s Top Fuel victory Sunday in the NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway (Jenna Watson/IndyStar via USA TODAY SPORTS NETWORK).

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

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“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.