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Wickens makes open-wheel return with Portland Formula E drive

Robert Wickens will return to the cockpit of an open-wheel racing car this weekend when he samples GEN3 Formula E machinery at the Portland E-Prix.

The Canadian was paralyzed in a crash at Pocono during his maiden IndyCar campaign in 2018, but has been racing Hyundai touring cars in the TCR class of the Michelin Pilot Challenge since 2022. His brief run in the Formula E car will mark the first time he has driven an open wheeler since his crash.

“I’m ecstatic to get the chance to drive Formula E’s GEN3,” Wickens told the Formula E website. “It’s the car I’ve wanted to try since the birth of the series and I’ve never really had an opportunity yet with the career paths I’ve taken, and when I was racing in DTM.

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“Formula E has always been in that elite category because of the competition there, and there’s less emphasis on the car [performance]. If there are competitive drivers there, everyone wants to be involved. It’s always been like that for me and just getting the opportunity to try the car is the main goal, initially. If that leads to further opportunities then I’ll be very happy.

“What’s amazing about Formula E is that for years it’s been making things work that people said ‘can’t be done.’ It’s always doing things that people didn’t think possible and that’s another reason it’s been high on my list of series to try. I knew I’d be welcomed here with open arms because people aren’t afraid to go against the grain here.

“On top of that, it’s an FIA World Championship – and competition at that level is something I’ve always wanted to achieve. Every kid wants to be a world champion, whether that’s in karting or at the elite level of motorsport.”

Wickens almost won on his IndyCar debut on the streets of St. Petersburg, having qualified on pole and led most of the race until a late collision with Alexander Rossi took him out of contention. He was also a two-time winner in DTM’s Norisring street race and a winner on the streets of Durban in A1 GP, and he feels Formula E’s street racing focus could play to his strengths, should he race in the category in the future.

“To race at historic circuits like Monaco, and the other groundbreaking city circuits and locations Formula E heads to, just brings the excitement,” he said. “I love street racing and it’s always been my forte and something I’ve enjoyed and excelled at.”

Wickens actually came close to a Formula E ride in the past, having been approached by an unnamed team back in 2018, although the offer came after he’d already signed his contract with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to race in IndyCar that year.

Even for a simple demonstration run, Wickens still goes full-on into prep alongside team owner Michael Andretti. Simon Galloway/Motorsport Images

“Ironically, I almost had an opportunity, but it was just a little too late back in 2018 and I’d already signed a contract with an IndyCar team,” Wickens said. “I was offered the chance to join a team in Formula E but I couldn’t take it and my life went in a separate direction.

“To come full circle and get the chance to drive the car is incredible. Seeing how the series has grown and developed over the years is amazing, and I’ve been an avid fan – and most of the drivers here are either former colleagues from various paddocks or teammates of mine from the past. It’s been a bit of a reunion!

“One of the blessings of having an underfunded junior formula career is that you don’t have the textbook career path, so I had the fortune to jump into nearly every European junior series along the way for tests, part seasons or full seasons.

“That built me as a driver and I feel like it added more tools to my belt for when I became a full-time professional driver. Then, once I had the opportunity to come back Stateside and race in IndyCar, I didn’t feel like I was a rookie there and I just hit the ground running.”

While it didn’t quite happen six years ago, Wickens is now eyeing a move into Formula E if his run in the car this weekend goes well.

“A lot of teammates and former colleagues have told me I’d probably excel in Formula E knowing how methodical I am [in] my race approach in terms of handling the strategy and energy management,” he said. “In the sportscar world those same skills translate, and I like to think I’m one of the better ones at it, so I’m really happy to give it a shot here.

“The important thing for me is my goal to return back to the elite level of motorsport after being paralyzed in IndyCar. I didn’t really know how I would end up there or get back to that level – and I didn’t know if I would jump straight back into a top level seat or have to work my way back up.

“It seems to me it’s more likely the latter. I’ve been racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge series with Hyundai for [three seasons now], and we won the championship last year in the TCR category, so we’re finally back to winning ways.

“On paper, Formula E feels [like] such a good fit for me. The stars just never aligned but hopefully they can in the future.”

Story originally appeared on Racer