Robert Wickens will return to racing with Bryan Herta Autosport, starting at Daytona

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Nearly three and a half years after an IndyCar crash left him unable to walk, Robert Wickens will return to racing this month — joining the championship Hyundai team of Bryan Herta Autosport.

Wickens will team with fellow Canadian Mark Wilkins in the No. 33 Elantra N TCR full time in the 2022 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season, starting at Daytona International Speedway with a Jan. 28 race that will be streamed live on Peacock (along with the full season; replays also will be shown on the USA network).

For accelerating and braking without the use of foot pedals, Wickens will be driving a custom hand-control system designed by BHA technical director David Brown and development technician Jonathan Gormley.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens returns to a race car at Mid-Ohio

Wickens has major aspirations in joining a six-car team that has won three consecutive championships in the MPC, vowing to win the season opener despite having yet to drive the car yet.

“Aim big, right,” he said with a smile during a Zoom news conference Friday. “Let’s go for the win. It’s not every day you can jump straight in with a team that’s won multiple championships with a teammate that’s won a championship. I feel I couldn’t be in a better place. The goal is simple: to try to win the thing.

“I felt I was forced to leave in 2018 at almost the peak of my career. I felt great. Never felt fitter, never felt stronger. I felt like I was driving the best I’ve ever driven. I want to hit the ground running and continue where I left off. At least challenge for a victory and podium, if anything.”

Wickens won the pole position and led 69 laps in his NTT IndyCar Series debut nearly four years ago and also was the 2018 Indy 500 rookie of the year.

Wickens made a big leap last May in his journey back to a race car, turning 62 laps with Herta’s team at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

It was his first exposure to hand controls mounted on the steering wheel that controlled the acceleration and braking of the No. 54 Veloster N TCR. Michael Johnson, a paralyzed driver who delivered Hyundai’s first podium with co-driver Stephen Simpson in a 2021 Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Daytona, helped guide Wickens through the use of hand controls.

Wickens also had watched Alex Zanardi race with hand controls in the DTM and sports cars series (including the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona). Zanardi was among the first to call after Wickens was paralyzed.

Wickens said Friday that he can stand with support but likely won’t walk again.

“I’m at the point where my recovery has more or less plateaued in terms of neural recovery,” he said. “I’m not regaining any more muscle function. Unfortunately, it’s looking like I’ll be in a chair for the remainder of my life as long as modern medicine and science stay what it is. But it’s a great life. I was able to regain a lot of function.”

For the past two seasons, Wickens has worked as a consultant and driver coach for Arrow McLaren SP, the team he drove for during his rookie season in the NTT IndyCar Series up until the Pocono crash.

Wickens said he will remain in the consultant role for Arrow McLaren SP during the 2022 season. Asked whether he wanted to race the Indy 500 again, Wickens said he is keeping his options open.

“The first thing for me is I want to race here in the Michelin Pilot Challenge with Hyundai in my Elantra N TCR car to just, for myself, prove I can do it again,” he said. “It’s almost like a proof of concept to understand the hand controls and compete again. I haven’t raced in three and a half years, really. Just for myself and everyone around me, I want to know I can do it again. Once we can tick that box, nothing is out of the question.

“I think it would be awesome to race the Indy 500. Also, I’m very interested in exploring new avenues. I’ve never really done any sports car driving. Racing at the highest levels of IMSA and the WeatherTech Series. Those LMDh cars just look insane. Formula E is something that’s very appealing to me as well. I’m interested in exploring other options of motorsport outside IndyCar.”

Wickens cast doubt on if he could race again in the NTT IndyCar Series because of regulations that could limit hand controls.

“Anything is possible with the right time, money and resources,” he said. “It’s a colossal ask, but I’m at a point in my life where if I never return to IndyCar, I’m very satisfied with that. I’m really looking forward to this opportunity I have here to get back behind the wheel and feel that hunger I’ve had for so many years watching from the sidelines.

“If things in the future arise, we’ll address them as they come. For the time being, I don’t see IndyCar as a feasible option in my return. The physicality to adapt my hand controls would require a lot of customization that I’m not sure the series would really sign off on. Braking, power steering. It would take like a one-off Indy car, which I don’t know if teams would agree to (allow).”

As expected, FIA denies granting Colton Herta a Super License to race in F1

Colton Herta Super License
Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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The governing body for Formula One on Friday said IndyCar star Colton Herta will not be granted the Super License that the American needs to join the F1 grid next season.

“The FIA confirms that an enquiry was made via the appropriate channels that led to the FIA confirming that the driver Colton Herta does not have the required number of points to be granted an FIA Super Licence,” the FIA said in a statement.

The FIA decision was not a surprise.

Red Bull was interested in the 22-year-old Californian and considering giving Herta a seat at AlphaTauri, its junior team. AlphaTauri has already said that Pierre Gasly will return next season and Yuki Tsunoda received a contract extension earlier this week.

However, AlphaTauri has acknowledged it would release Gasly, who is apparently wanted at Alpine, but only if it had a compelling driver such as Herta to put in the car. F1 has not had an American on the grid since Alexander Rossi in 2015, but Herta did not particularly want the FIA to make an exception to the licensing system to get him a seat.

At issue is how the FIA rates IndyCar, a series it does not govern. The points it awards to IndyCar drivers rank somewhere between F2 and F3, the two junior feeder series into F1.

IndyCar drivers have criticized the system in defense of Herta and the intense, close racing of their own highly competitive series. Herta has won seven IndyCar races, is the youngest winner in series history and has four starts in the Indianapolis 500. He qualified on the front row in 2021 and finished a career-best eighth in 2020.

Rossi, who has spent the last four seasons as Herta’s teammate at Andretti Autosport, lashed out this week because “I’m so sick and tired of this back and forth” regarding the licensing.

“The whole premise of it was to keep people from buying their way into F1 and allowing talent to be the motivating factor,” Rossi wrote on social media. “That’s great. We all agree Colton has the talent and capability to be in F1. That’s also great and he should get that opportunity if it’s offered to him. Period.

“Motorsport still remains as the most high profile sport in the world where money can outweigh talent. What is disappointing and in my opinion, the fundamental problem, is that the sporting element so often took a backseat to the business side that here had to be a method put in place in order for certain teams to stop taking drivers solely based on their financial backing.”

Rossi added those decisions “whether out of greed or necessity, is what cost Colton the opportunity to make the decision for himself as to if he wanted to alter career paths and race in F1. Not points on a license.”

The system favors drivers who compete in FIA-sanctioned series. For example, Linus Lundqvist earned his Super License by winning the Indy Lights championship.

Lundqvist’s required points come via the 15 he earned for the Lights title, 10 points for finishing third in Lights last year and his 2020 victory in the FIA-governed Formula Regional Americas Championship, which earned him 18 points.

That gave the 23-year-old Swede a total of 43 points, three more than needed for the license.

Herta, meanwhile, ended the IndyCar season with 32 points. He can still earn a Super License by picking up one point for any free practice sessions he runs this year; McLaren holds his F1 rights and could put him in a car. Herta could also potentially run in an FIA-sanctioned winter series to pick up some points.

Michael Andretti, who has petitioned the FIA to expand its grid to add two cars for him to launch a team, said he never bothered to explore potential replacements for Herta on the IndyCar team because he was confident the Super License request would be rejected.

Andretti has been met by severe resistance from existing F1 teams and even F1 itself in his hope to add an 11th team. Andretti could still get on the grid by purchasing an existing team and he’d like to build his program around Herta, who is under contract in IndyCar to Andretti through 2023.