If winning his first IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge TCR race last week at Watkins Glen was unbelievable, Robert Wickens can barely begin to describe the week that followed.
Wickens and teammate Mark Wilkins were at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park earlier in the week after driving straight from Watkins Glen, doing activities for Hyundai Canada. On Thursday, Wickens received an unexpected call from his wife, Karli – They were expecting it sooner than expected.
Wickens drove late at night back to Indianapolis to be there for the birth of her first child, Wesley Joseph Wickens. With mother and baby doing well, Wickens returned to CTMP to race in today’s Canadian Tire Motorsports Park 120. He and Wilkins weren’t expecting much. Not only had he missed the track walk and not turned a lap in the car all weekend, but missing out on qualifying meant Wickens would start at the back of the pack anyway.
Sometimes reality defies expectations, or in this case, the lack thereof. Despite all odds, Wickens and Wilkins earned their second straight win in the No. 33 Hyundai Elantra N TCR Bryan Herta Autosport – the two Canadians capable of celebrating victory on home soil.
“It really is a fairy tale,” he said in the victory circle. “I think the win at Watkins was very deserved. You know, we worked hard. We’ve been there every race this year and then it finally clicked and we got that win. Then we thought, you know , let’s get that momentum into our home race Everything was fine Mark and I went straight to Canada to start the promotion and press tour for Hyundai Canada We were here at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park doing all the media, everything like this monday, tuesday, wednesday before the race. And then thursday we’re on our way to the track just to start the normal routine and track walking. And I got a call that I wasn’t expecting from my wife after her doctor’s appointment, saying the due date had been pushed back. ‘So I need you home. I need you tomorrow morning.'”
Wickens’ first laps in the car, on a track he last raced on more than a decade ago, were the pace laps.
“It’s the first time in my career that I’ve raced without ever doing a track walk or anything, literally without lapping a lap before the formation lap for the race. And I feel like been driving for a long time. So luckily it ended well. My only goal was to keep the car in one piece to give Mark a chance to win. We had a few lucky breaks. I feel like capitalized well on the restarts as it was really hard to pass everyone was so tightly paced I picked the right spot at the right time had a few lucky breaks to get through the GS traffic and we got together ended up in the top 3. Once in the top 3, I had no more risk, making sure I kept the car alive for Mark because I knew we were going to have a chance to get a result there -down,” he said.
This weekend is IMSA’s first visit to the CTMP since 2019. After not being able to race here, Wilkins took victory just a few hours drive from his hometown, with his wife Leah and children in attendance, was special – all the more so by helping his teammate celebrate the birth of his son with something far better than a cigar.
“A home win is always something you want to achieve,” smiled Wilkins. “But it’s never easy. I don’t even know the last time I won here. It’s been a long time, and it’s a tough trail. I mean, those early practice laps are always eye-opening in terms of speed, and the element of risk here is always so high, but man, it feels good. I got into a good rhythm; Robert was in a furrow. I feel like we inspire each other a bit. He just does such a good job, so if he can do it, I can do it. So let’s go; let’s do it.”
Now Wickens says he’s ready to go home and start changing diapers. He says he’s grateful to the Bryan Herta Autosport team for everything they’ve done, especially not putting any pressure on him to race, saying family comes first. But he made the run – with a fairy tale ending.