IndyCar: Unlikely Indy 500 return in the cards for 2024?
The Associated Press has reported that Bryan Herta wants to enter former IndyCar driver Robert Wickens in the Indy 500, possibly as early as 2024.
Robert Wickens hasn’t competed in an IndyCar race since a devastating crash at Pocono Raceway during his rookie season in 2018 left him with a spinal cord injury which paralyzed him from the waist down.
While Wickens has worked hard to get back to where he is now, competing in the TCR class of the Michelin Pilot Challenge, many assumed that would remain the case.
But not two-time Indy 500-winning team owner Bryan Herta, who fields Wickens’ Hyundai Elantra N entry in the Michelin Pilot Challenge.
In early 2022, Wickens stated that an IndyCar return of any kind just didn’t “seem feasible. But perhaps that admission was to lessen the pressure of mounting a comeback and thus to potentially maximize the impact such a return would have on the world of motorsport if it were to happen.
After that, Wickens, who races with hand controls, secured his first win since the crash, winning at Watkins Glen International in his Bryan Herta Autosport entry along with fellow Canadian Mark Wilkins. The pair went on to win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park as well. Wickens finished in sixth place in the championship standings.
Still, Robert Wickens’ statement seemed to be an indicator that the dream of an IndyCar or Indy 500 return simply wasn’t going to happen.
After the accident, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports co-owner Sam Schmidt stated that the No. 6 car would be ready and waiting for Wickens, should he ever be capable of returning to compete in the series.
The team became Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and then Arrow McLaren SP when McLaren entered the sport in 2020, but Schmidt made clear that that promise still stood.
But in the 2022 season, the team’s final season as Arrow McLaren SP before the change to Arrow McLaren when McLaren officially became majority owners of the team, the team entered the No. 6 car for the first time since 2018.
Following Wickens’ accident, the No. 6 car was only entered in two races, the final two races of the 2018 season when Carlos Munoz took over. It wasn’t entered at all from 2019 to 2021.
But in 2022, they fielded the No. 6 Chevrolet for Juan Pablo Montoya in his two races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including the Indy 500, and in 2023, they brought the number back full-time for their third entry. Felix Rosenqvist, who had driven the No. 7 Chevrolet, is set to drive that car, with the incoming Alexander Rossi driving the No. 7 Chevrolet.
However, Herta has discussed the possibility of fielding an entry for Wickens as early as 2024. In fact, the initial goal was for 2023, but Herta and Wickens want to make sure that an Indy 500 entry is done properly, hand controls and all.
Perhaps Wickens’ start at Pocono Raceway in 2018 won’t end up being his final IndyCar start after all.
In 14 races during the 2018 season, Wickens racked up four podium finishes, good for fourth in the series at the time. He was sitting in sixth place in the championship standings when he was sidelined.
He finished in ninth place in the Indy 500 to earn Rookie of the Year honors and still won Rookie of the Year honors for the entire season with an 11th place finish in the standings, despite the fact that he missed the final three races.
Could start number 15 come in the 108th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing? Could enough work be done to perhaps get him in a car (competitively) ahead of time? Regardless, what was once viewed by the general public as impossible may just have a chance to come to fruition.