Wickens Reflects on Developing Young Talent Through 2020 Season
With the NTT INDYCAR SERIES scheduled to draw to a close this weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, Arrow McLaren SP Driver Advisor, Robert Wickens, discusses the popular street course event and reflects on his role this year having worked closely with the team’s drivers.
It’s been a challenge for Wickens, whose burning desire to win at an elite level of motorsport has never dimmed but lending his experience towards assisting Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew has played a key role in both driver’s development.
“As a competitive driver, there have definitely been moments where I wished I could put on the helmet and do it myself,” Wickens commented with a wry smile. “Honestly, though, it’s been very satisfying and both drivers have had moments throughout their seasons which has made my job very rewarding.”
The 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES has presented challenges to the team this season with its mix of racing circuits, compacted schedules, and doubleheader events. Wickens was expecting there to be bumps in the road along the way, which there have certainly been.
“A lot of us were expecting more inexperience or rookie errors, but they’ve both done a very good job in being professional drivers and they’ve been a treat to work with. They’ve listened well, which is great for my role in the team, as anything I’ve given to them in terms of feedback they’ve always tried. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
While Wickens’ role focuses on developing O’Ward and Askew’s on-track performance, beyond the racetrack he has shared invaluable lessons to the young drivers that have helped make their transition to the premier level of motorsports not as overwhelming.
“In the junior categories, it’s really just driving the race car, talking to the engineers, and then driving the race car again. When you’re at the elite professional level, driving is the easy part. Now, you have to handle the marketing needs, the interviews, talking to the engineers on a much deeper level than you ever would have in the junior categories.”
“There’s a lot more pieces to the puzzle in order to achieve success and how you manage that is critical. I think that probably caught both of our drivers off guard a little bit at the beginning of the year, so I was working with them a lot on coaching, helping them almost with time management for lack of a better term.”
“Climbing the ladder, you have hours between sessions where you can sleep, you can eat lunch, you can go wherever you want whereas your events are so structured when you get to that elite level of INDYCAR, you don’t have that choice. You might have to eat your lunch during an engineering meeting and multi-task because that’s the only opportunity you have before the next session. So, from that aspect, both drivers have evolved a lot.”
With the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg now hosting the final race of the season, Wickens provides insight into what it takes to master the lone street course of the 2020 calendar. Think back to 2018 when a talented rookie burst onto the scene and announced his arrival with pole position and a commanding lead until an unfortunate late-race restart cost him a chance of victory on debut.
“It’s an awesome track,” enthuses Wickens. “It has a really good flow and a lot of character and even has a lot of history within INDYCAR. In my rookie season, it was the race I was looking forward to the most. There are a couple of those 90-degree corners, but there are a lot of very unique corners given the characteristics of how we run on the airstrip for a little bit, along with some nice radius corners that aren’t typical on a street course that gives the circuit a great flow. That’s what really caught my eye and I immediately liked about it, and it suited my driving style. The team has always had a good set-up there in the past, and hopefully, we can continue that form for the finale.”
With O’Ward in contention of claiming third place in the drivers’ standings, Wickens is keen to remain focused on the task at hand.
“Pato has been strong all season, and both of our drivers will suit the street course very well. Neither of them are prone to mistakes, and that’s the thing about street courses, you don’t have runoff or grass where you can drop a wheel because the track limits is a wall on the other side. It’s going to be a new challenge, but I think the funny thing is that both of our drivers were preparing all winter long like I was for my first INDYCAR race. We are very well prepared, and we should have strong cars right out of the box which in turn will make it a fun weekend.”
O’Ward and Askew take to the streets of St. Petersburg this coming weekend, Oct. 24-25. Arrow McLaren SP fans can watch the season finale live on NBC this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET as well as follow the team’s and Arrow Electronics’ social media channels for updates and insights throughout the weekend.