Rookie Wickens Surprise IndyCar Pole Winner At St. Petersburg

Robert Wickens celebrates his pole winning run at the Grand Prix of St Petersburg. [credit Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media]

Robert Wickens celebrates his pole winning run at the Grand Prix of St Petersburg. [credit Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media]

By Joe Jennings

Making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut, rookie Robert Wickens surprised everyone, including himself, by topping the 24-car field in qualifications for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.  The 28-year old Canadian zipped around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course in a time of 1:01.6643 minutes at a speed of 105.085 miles per hour.

The newcomer was driving the Lucas Oil Honda entered by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.  James Hinchcliffe is his teammate.

Throughout the three rounds of qualifying light sprinkles of rain fell on the competitors, causing spins and half-spins for several drivers.

Wickens admitted he had hoped to qualify in the top-10 until the waning seconds of the timed runs when he dislodged Will Power from the pole.  “Actually, I didn’t feel that good actually in practice today. We kind of made some changes overnight that didn’t do what we hoped it would, so we kind of had to go back to our car from Friday. And Friday I was really happy with the car.”

And today he learned about the challenges with the use of red tires.  “Today, I was able to put a good lap in Q1, which got me into the fast 12, and from there it was just chaos, half wet, half dry. I like those conditions a lot,” he added.  “As a kid my whole career I’ve seemed to excel in that type of session, and thankfully the team and everyone on the Lucas Oil car did a great job getting us on track at the right time with the right tire, with the whole procedure. My hat is off to them.”

Power, the 2017 pole winner, will start second tomorrow in the Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Said Power, “Starting up at the front is definitely better as far as getting through the first corner and that sort of thing. Obviously, the pole is the best position you can be in. But yeah, I mean, it will be interesting we don’t know how these cars race. I know they follow well, but I don’t think they draft that well. But yeah, very close.

“I had a big missed shift during my lap where I just got stuck in gear for quite a while, and then when I saw how tight it was, it was like, yeah, probably lost a tenth or so there. But a fantastic job by Wickens, first time out, to get the po

Rookies Matheus Leist (A. J. Foyt Racing) and Jordan King (Ed Carpenter Racing) took second row honors.

Indianapolis 500 winners Takuma Sato and Ryan Hunter-Reay will start from row three.

Rounding out the top-10 qualifiers were Hinchcliffe, Gabby Chaves, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.

Of the top-10, five have Honda power and five have Chevrolets.

Series defending champion Josef Newgarden qualified 13th.

Penalties nullified quality runs by Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi.

Sunday’s Grand Prix will be telecast live by ABC-TV starting at 12:30 p.m. ET.


Share Button