Robert Wickens finishes 2nd at the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

Wickens' Path to First IndyCar Win Blocked by Rossi Again

LEXINGTON, Ohio — Were it not for Alexander Rossi, Robert Wickens would probably have two Verizon IndyCar Series victories this season.

Standing on track after finishing second to Rossi in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, Wickens couldn’t help but smile about his familiar nemesis.

It was Rossi who bumped Wickens out of a late lead and likely a win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – in Wickens’ first series race. But Wickens couldn’t find fault with how the Andretti Autosport driver got the best of him on Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, as the only one to pull off a two-stop pit strategy.

When reminded that it was Rossi who kept him from the top step of the podium again, Wickens could only grin.

“I would have two (wins), yeah,” Wickens said, “but give credit where credit’s due. He drove a great race. Qualified pole, hit the (fuel) numbers they needed to hit.

“For a while there, I was like, ‘How’s he going to make these numbers when I’m gaining three- and four-tenths of a second on him (a lap) and I’m on quality (fuel) mode?’ But he did it. Clearly, the guy knows how to save fuel. He’s won an Indy 500 doing it.”

Wickens finished second for the second time this rookie season. His No. 6 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda has also finished third twice, fourth once and fifth twice.

“We’re sniffing at it,” Wickens, the former European touring car standout, said with a chuckle about getting that breakthrough Verizon IndyCar Series victory.

“We were close; just didn’t get the track position we needed to pull off our strategy. I’m a believer that if we keep on doing what we’re doing, we’re going to get those wins.

“If (Rossi) ran out of fuel, it was ours. That’s all we could hope for in this race.”

Wickens qualified fifth but surged to the front early and led 15 laps in two stints. But when Rossi took the lead on Lap 65, he was able to build a 25-second advantage in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda by running in open space. In contrast, Wickens couldn’t get around the lapped cars of Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan.

“When (Rossi) was running along there, it was a battle of lap times versus fuel for both of us,” Wickens said. “I wasn't able to save at all. It was fun. That's how I like to race. Saving fuel, I understand, is the name of the game.”

Once trailing Rossi by more than 20 seconds, Wickens managed to cut the deficit to 12.8285 seconds by race’s end.

“There was a stage in the race where I thought we might have it,” Wickens said, “The car was on rails. We were doing a good job. Fuel wasn’t an issue for us on three stops. Just quality lap after quality lap.

“In that second stint of the race, I pulled out a 14-second lead. I’m like, ‘We can make this work (if) we keep pounding away like that.’ But then, unfortunately, we got into traffic and that was the turning point.

“We did a massive undercut to get us into the lead, but from there we just needed a clear track. We didn’t get it on the third and fourth stints there, getting stuck behind Sato and Kanaan.”

The 29-year-old Canadian was unconvinced that a late caution flag would have been to his benefit.

“To be honest, I didn’t know if I wanted that because (Will) Power had (the faster alternate) tires behind me and especially when you’re down into the last 15 laps, they’re going to clear all the lapped traffic away and it’s a straight-up dogfight,” Wickens said. “If there was a yellow, Rossi was going to make his fuel mileage with the yellow.”

Wickens took pride in delivering back-to-back podium finishes — he was third at Toronto on July 15. He’s sixth in the points, 114 behind leader Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing.

“You can't rest in this championship,” he said. “You have to keep pushing, keep working.”

And one day, if Wickens keeps putting himself in these positions, it will pay off.

“Obviously, deep down as a driver, I enter every race to win,” he said. “I wake up in the morning, go to the gym, because I want to win. The fact that hasn't happened yet, is it frustrating? Sure. Have we had good opportunities throughout the season? Yeah.

“Ultimately, you never know what can happen down the stretch. Races I felt I could never challenge for, we got top five and we got podium. It's a crazy championship. Anything can happen.”

Wickens’ next opportunity to take that first win comes in the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, Aug. 19. NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network have live coverage starting at 1:30 p.m. ET.