After a month-long break directly following his first career win in German touring cars, Robert Wickens headed back to Europe on Monday hoping to keep his momentum going.
The Mercedes driver in the highly competitive Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) pulled off a stunning early August triumph at a soggy Nürburgring, showing flawless car control in difficult conditions to score his maiden DTM victory.
While he hopes to continue the success as the series gets back on track this weekend at the Oschersleben Circuit about 200 kilometres west of Berlin, there’s no doubt the win two-thirds of the way through his second season was a long time coming for Wickens.
“It was more just relief,” said Wickens, who flew back to Germany last Monday after spending two weeks with his family in Guelph, Ont.
“I always thought I had it in me to keep my streak going of winning in every category and obviously last year it didn’t happen. This year, I had it set in my head that I had to win more for myself to prove that I could – I was close a couple of times this year and to get it in Nürburgring was really satisfying especially the way the race played out. Going into the race, I wasn’t expecting to win and I thought if I could have snuck onto a step of the podium, it would be an accomplishment. But the race just kind of played into my hands perfectly and from there it was pretty good.”
The Nürburgring success came after Wickens‘ rookie DTM campaign ended last year without him standing on the top step of the podium for the first time in a season since he graduated from karting. Beginning with his open wheel debut in Formula BMW USA in 2005, Wickens scored wins in every series he’s raced a car, including Champ Car Atlantic, GP3, Formula 2, Formula Three Euroseries, A1GP, and the World Series by Renault where he took the 2011 title.
The performance last month also included the pass of the year so far, with Wickens overtaking two rivals in a move that played a key role in sealing the victory. The 24-year-old went the long way around the outside of Corner 2 in the wet to make a pass for second that wowed the crowd. It was also a turning point in the race because the bold driving ensured he didn’t lose any time to the leader at that point, Audi’s Mike Rockenfeller, which put him into a position to win the race.
While he left many jaws wagging by his skill and bravery in wet conditions, Wickens was modest when asked about the double overtake.
“Honestly, it looked spectacular but actually it was just luck and being in the right place at the right time,” he said.
“With the two cars battling in front of me I just took the same line I did in the laps before and they were on the inside because [Audi’s Adrien] Tambay was defending [BMW’s Augusto] Farfus, so their lines were crap. I mean okay, so I carried in a lot of entry speed to make sure I would get beside at least one of them and then once I realized they were an awful lot slower than I was expecting, I figured I’d try to get both and it worked out.”
Nurburgring marked the second time Wickens was classified first in a race this year, Although he inherited a win at the Norisring in July after the original victor Mattias Ekström of the Audi squad was disqualified, it was later taken away again by DTM’s appeal court. In the end, the court decided to put the Norisring race into the books without a winner and the final results were listed from second place on.
Apart from the points hit that took an extra seven markers from his tally, losing a win gained through a penalty to another driver didn’t bother Wickens one bit.
“In my mind I never would have thought of it as a win, I just would have thought of it as 25 points. At the time, I didn’t celebrate it like it was a win because I drove a strong race to second,” he said.
“But losing those points in Norisring was horrible really because it changed the whole strategy for the second half of the year. Basically, it was tough to take but I wasn’t really going to dwell on it and finally after the Nurburgring I was kind of just relieved to shut people up who kept asking ’how does it feel to have you win taken away?’ because now I have one.”
Then again, now that he’s tasted official victory in DTM, Wickens will be looking to add more wins in the final three stops of the season beginning this weekend.
With three races to go, Wickens is third overall in points with 70, one behind Mercedes teammate Christian Vietoris in second and three ahead of the other Canadian in the field, defending DTM champion Bruno Spengler, who is fourth. Audi’s Rockenfeller leads with 106.
Although his immediate goal is to be the top Mercedes driver for 2013, Wickens would also like to close the gap to Rockenfeller this weekend significantly and take a run at winning the championship.
But with a 36-point margin and only 75 total markers left up for grabs in the season, Rockenfeller will likely have to stumble terribly – and soon – for Wickens to boost his title hopes.
“I’m not giving up on it that’s for sure but I am also remaining realistic – you never know what can happen in motorsport and maybe I can keep momentum going from Nurburgring,” he said.
“If I can get a win this weekend and he doesn’t score, it blows it wide open again. Thirty-six points is a comfortable lead, but he can’t afford a mistake. For me the most important thing is to finish the season as the best Mercedes driver, have a strong off season and then go for the title in my third year.”
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