The unveiling in Denver said it all. On Jan. 18, when Arrow Electronics announced it was making a greater investment in becoming title partner of what is now Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in the NTT IndyCar Series, black covers were lifted from the team’s three cars to show for the first time their liveries for the 2019 season.
The No. 5 Honda on the left belonged to James Hinchcliffe, who enters his fifth season with the team. The No. 7 on the right is reserved for Marcus Ericsson, who makes his INDYCAR debut in 2019 after five Formula One seasons.
In between was the No. 6 car with a smiling Robert Wickens next to it, seated in his wheelchair. On this day, with Wickens front and center, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports reaffirmed its commitment to the driver who continues to capture hearts and inspire as he documents his recovery from the frightening crash last August at Pocono Raceway.
As he glanced at the car bearing his name next to the cockpit, the 29-year-old Canadian who took the NTT IndyCar Series by storm last year, capturing the pole position and nearly winning his first race, grinned and appeared to be dreaming about what could be.
“This is the first time I’ve seen a race car since I was on the grid at Pocono,” Wickens told the assembled audience of Arrow employees and executives inside the Pepsi Center. “It makes me want to jump in one and see if I can push the pedal or not.”
Wickens knows that scenario isn’t in the near future, as he takes on what he admitted is the toughest challenge of his life: regaining the use of his legs after sustaining a spinal cord injury in the crash. He is approaching it just as he did any race throughout his career, with full focus and attention to detail and preparation.
Arrow SPM co-owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson pledged shortly after the crash that the No. 6 would be waiting for Wickens upon his healthy return. Along with Arrow CEO Mike Long, they backed up that statement at the Denver unveil.
“It means the world to me, the support I’ve been getting from Ric, from Sam, from Mike,” Wickens said. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to race for them last year and I’m even more grateful that I’ll have the opportunity to race for them sometime in the future.
“I’m happy to have a great team to bring me here and to have a car here to show that they’re committed to me for my recovery.”
Wickens spoke briefly about his first season in the NTT IndyCar Series, when he secured 10 top-10 and four podium finishes and led in seven different races. Despite missing the final three races, Wickens easily secured Rookie of the Year honors.
“It was fun to be in my rookie season,” he said. “I was just really happy again. To come into INDYCAR was just a breath of fresh air, and to get the results and to be working with a great team and alongside my best friend (Hinchcliffe), it was just a great time until it wasn’t.”
Wickens also knows the road to recovery has many miles to go. And he’ll keep his growing list of followers on social media up to date on his progress.
“The recovery’s been tough – it’s been the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” he said. “I made the decision to share it with people to kind of see what’s going on. Because when we were doing research on what a spinal cord injury actually is, there wasn’t a whole lot of research on it on kind of what the recovery even looks like. So we’re trying to shine some light on it.
“Hopefully, people that are going through the same struggle, maybe they can get some inspiration from that. It’s not easy, there’s still a long way to go, but all I know is that the support from the fans has been phenomenal. The days that I’m feeling down, those guys pick me back up and get me in the gym. It’s been helping a lot.”