DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Bryan Herta wants to enter Canadian driver Robert Wickens in the Indianapolis 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 he returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.
The 33-year-old from Guelph, Ont., won a pair of races 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.
“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.
“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 and welcomed the birth of his first child, a son named Wesley who 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.
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Jenna Fryer, The Associated Press