Rookie Overcomes Drizzly Qualifying for Verizon IndyCar Series’ Season Opener
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - RIS – Robert Wickens drove his Lucas Oil SPM Honda to the pole position for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Wickens, from Guelph, Canada, won in his first Verizon P1 pole award in his first ever attempt at qualifying for an IndyCar Series race. He will be 29 years old on March 13.
Driving the No. 6 car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the driver most recently competed in the European DTM sports car series. He spent six years racing in DTM, capturing six wins and 15 podium finishes. He also competed in Formula Renault 3.5, GP3, FIA Formula 2, Atlantics, Formula 3, A1GP and Formula BMW.
“I’m a little speechless,” Wickens said after qualifying. “Our goal was to make it to the top ten. If I made the top six it would be amazing. We had a great strategy (Out late on Red Firestone tires under drizzly but somewhat improving conditions). We made changes for the Red (softer compound) tires.”
Rounding out the Firestone Fast Six were, Will Power, Matheus Leist (Rookie), Jordan King (Rookie), Takuma Sato and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Alexander Rossi was penalized for interfering with qualifying of another car. Hunter-Reay replaced him in the Fast Six. Scott Dixon, four time IndyCar champion, qualified ninth. Defending champion, Josef Newgarden, qualified 13th.
Drizzly conditions in the second segment of qualifying combined with the new aero kits to provide drivers of the three Hondas and three Chevrolets with ill-handling race cars. They slid and wiggled their way towards the end of the session.
But that didn’t stop the teams from putting on soft compound Red tires for the final segment. Drivers searched for drier sections of the circuit to gain speed.
Wickens is the first Indy car driver to win the pole position in his first race since Sebastien Bourdais in 2003 at this same event.
Sunday’s IndyCar Schedule:
8:45 am Verizon IndyCar Series Warm-up (stream)
12:30 pm IndyCar Series Race (ABC)
Dave Chess has been writing for RIS since the late 1980s during the CompuServe days. His work has also appeared in Auto Week magazine, Chicago Gearhead News newspaper, ATA airlines in-flight magazine, National Speed Sport News and on many websites.