Robert Wickens now has a better understanding of the toughness of Pocono Raceway.
The Verizon IndyCar Series rookie spent Thursday running his first laps at the unique three-turn, 2.5-mile superspeedway oval in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, which plays host to the ABC Supply 500 on Sunday, Aug. 19. After the test that also included veteran Tony Kanaan (AJ Foyt Racing) and fellow rookies Pietro Fittipaldi (Dale Coyne Racing), Matheus “Matt” Leist (AJ Foyt Racing) and Zach Veach (Andretti Autosport), Wickens admitted to how different Pocono is to other ovals he’s faced in his maiden INDYCAR season.
“It's a challenging place, man,” the driver of the No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports said.
“I've learned now why they call it the ‘Tricky Triangle’ for a reason, but it honestly it was. I enjoyed it. It is super challenging. It took me a long time to get confident around it.
“The fact that I was able to test here before the race weekend was huge for me. Without that, it would be pretty hard to get up to speed in such a short amount of time like we have for the INDYCAR oval weekend.”
Wickens has impressed the INDYCAR paddock in his first season since transitioning from the DTM touring car series in Europe. Sitting sixth in points, the 29-year-old Canadian has one pole position, four podiums and 187 laps led through 13 starts. He has enjoyed three top-10 finishes in the four oval events run thus far in 2018, including a runner-up result at ISM Raceway in April.
Though Pocono is its own animal, Wickens said he began to find relatable characteristics to other ovals, including Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“That’s been the craziest thing with INDYCAR this year. I feel like I'm gaining a bit of experience and every time I go to an oval I feel like it is completely different,” Wickens said.
“I think it's the same philosophy (at the test). I thought that Turn 1 was pretty similar to maybe Indy, just with more banking. You kind of have to drive it a little differently, but Indy was way tighter. (In) Turn 3, I struggled with the whole test. Turn 2 was kind of a no-brainer, just full throttle in these new cars.
“So that was fine, but yeah, Turns 1 and 3 were the tricky ones, but I felt pretty confident in (Turn) 1. I was just lacking that little bit in Turn 3. I think that’ll just come with confidence.”
James Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ teammate at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, was on hand to lend guidance but did not participate in the test.
Wickens said the No. 6 crew had a “very optimistic test list” that was nearly completed. He added, however, that the car was loaded with downforce most of the day to make him the most comfortable. Running closer to the edge with less downforce will wait until race weekend Aug. 18-19.
“I’ll be honest with you, I know that I didn't trim out (downforce) at all, all day,” admitted Wickens, the 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 Series champion.
“I'm sure other people maybe have tried it. I don't know, but I'm not really at that stage now where I can comfortably trim out and tell you that I would go faster. You never know what's going to happen in qualifying.
“I’m sure there's always going be that one guy to try and do it.”
The ABC Supply 500 weekend schedule features just a single 60-minute practice on Saturday, Aug. 18 ahead of qualifying (1:30 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN). A late-afternoon practice on the same day is the last chance for drivers and teams to dial in their race setups.
Wickens has been up to the task at most every race he’s been to this season. He’s cautiously optimistic for Pocono.
“It's going to be a challenging race,” he said, “but if you have the car, you can make anything happen.”
Ticket information for the ABC Supply 500 is available at PoconoRaceway.com. The race airs live at 1:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Aug. 19 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.