When you're standing at the crossroads of a major decision, it's daunting to take the road less traveled and perform an undertaking that is far less familiar. However, the journey can be more rewarding than the predictable path when we use the acquired wisdom we take with us and embrace the pure enjoyment of embarking on a new adventure.
If you've been watching the DTM Series, for the past couple of years, you are not surprised by the recent accomplishments of IndyCar "rookie" Robert Wickens. At the age of 29, he already has a wealth of racing experience at the top level of his once preferred discipline in motorsport - touring car racing.
The fast and frantic racing, along with the nimble handling characteristics of current DTM machines, has proven to be a relatable competitive battleground for drivers who hope to continue or reignite their open-wheel ambitions. I was very excited when I heard that Wickens was called up to deputize for Mikhail Aleshin at Road America last year. Even though he only drove in the first practice session, because of an immigration issue for the Russian driver, he definitely made a great impression on the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team.
They certainly made the right decision to hire him, after the Guelph, Ontario native qualified on pole position for his first race in the series at the St. Petersburg Street Circuit.
We all know what transpired with two laps to go in that race. After watching the replay over and over again, it would have been easier to maintain first position if Robert blocked the pursuing Alexander Rossi on the inside of the treacherous Turn 1. Instead, the door was left open and the American barged through it, taking out a rapid fan favorite in the process. It was a cruel way for his first race to end, as he drove like a seasoned veteran up until that point when the two touched. The message was clearly sent, however. IndyCar had a new star and a rivalry was renewed.
Before settling into race cars with roofs, Robert Wickens finished 2nd to Esteban Gutierrez in the only GP3 Series campaign he contested. In that 2010 season, he did manage to beat current title challenger Rossi and defending champion Josef Newgarden in the process. The next year, Wickens won the Formula Renault 3.5 Series title with Carlin Motorsport. During that time, it was an even more credible ladder step into F1 and he used that step to become a test driver for Marussia Virgin Racing.
It's no surprise that a driver who has beaten the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne would be able to adapt so quickly in his new surroundings.
With the Indy 500 success of Rossi and Fernando Alonso's near breakthrough win last year, drivers from overseas are realizing that the oval tracks don't have to be as intimidating as they were in year's past. Get with an experienced team, be patient with your progress, listen to what the car is telling you, respect your fellow competitors, and use that natural ability. Then you too may be able to achieve a podium finish after your first oval race, like Wickens did in Phoenix, and be the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year after briefly leading the race and finishing in 9th place!
Go right instead of left, and the "Wickens Effect" would be even more substantial than it is now.
If the congenial Canadian had those 50 points from a win in Round 1, he would be yet another championship contender for Scott Dixon to fend off.
The ripple effect of that competitive clash also resulted in a 5 point loss for Rossi and a 2 point gain for Dixon, totalling a 7 point swing in the points that could ultimately decide this season's championship.
After a purposeful break, the series is now at its 5th oval of the six that are on the current calendar. A top five finish is definitely a possibility for Wickens in his first race weekend visit to the "Tricky Triangle," but I'll go one better and predict a win for him in the Pocono 500!
Why such a bold prediction, you ask?
First, he's driving for the same team that qualified on pole position two years ago with Aleshin. Yes, the cars are very different now but the team knows what their two drivers will need besides being fast in qualifying. Evidence of this is the 2nd place finish in that year.
Secondly, he's on the outskirts of the title fight, so he can take more risks and battle harder than some of his closest competitors who can't afford to finish outside of the top ten.
Lastly, he appears to be in a happy place in his life. He gets to drive a car for a team that can challenge for race victories on any type of circuit in the series. His successful and extremely likeable teammate, James Hinchcliffe, is also his longtime best friend. He now knows that no matter what happens in the remainder of this season, he made the right choice to leave familiarity for a new challenge (sounds familiar).
If my prediction fails to come true tomorrow, it's still only a question of when Robert Wickens wins his first IndyCar race and not if he will win.
The ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway can be seen on the NBC Sports Network this Sunday at 1:30 pm EST.