Indianapolis — Robert Wickens crashed Monday during the second-to-last practice for the Indianapolis 500, another headache for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports just two days after top driver James Hinchcliffe failed to make the field for the showcase race.
In addition to finding a way to get one of its two Canadian drivers into the 33-car starting field, the team now must repair Wickens’ car, too. The final practice is Friday, two days before the race.
“It’s been a very rough two weeks, to be honest,” team general manager Pierre Phillips said. “There’s a long way to go to race day, so we’ll be there.”
Wickens hit the outside wall coming out of the second turn, then hit it again in the back straightaway when the No. 6 car made an abrupt right turn because of a broken right front suspension and rolled to a stop in the third turn.
Phillips called the car a “mess” and said there was “fairly severe” damage to the right side. As for Wickens, it was his first taste of real taste of trouble on the 2.5-mile oval.
“It’s a bummer, obviously, no one wants it, especially this close to the race,” he said. “Lesson learned, I guess. It just happened out of nowhere. I am fine, I mean these cars are super safe. First crash in an Indy car, so I guess it had to happen eventually.”
There was no sign of a new ride for Hinchcliffe. As the drivers rolled out to pit lane for practice, he walked around in street clothes promoting a blood drive in the Gasoline Alley suites. A life-threatening leg injury he sustained at Indy in 2015 gave him the idea.
The popular 2016 Indy pole winner and the face of a national Honda advertising campaign did not answer questions about finding a ride. He is fifth in the points standings and missing Indy, a double points race, could take him out of championship contention.
He said Sunday he didn’t expect to have a car in the race and Schmidt didn’t sound any more optimistic a day later. IndyCar has said it will not expand the field, meaning his only option would be to take the ride of a driver already in the lineup, perhaps teammate Jay Howard in the No. 7 that qualified 19th.
“There’s been a lot of talk, obviously,” Schmidt said. “But our only option is with a Honda team. It’s not a completely dead deal. But if we were going to get him in, we would have liked to have had him in the car today.”
Schmidt declined to say what the asking price was from other teams. Schmidt told reporters that Hinchcliffe’s sponsors have agreed to put their logos on the cars of Howard and Wickens, who qualified 18th. If Hinchcliffe competed in another car, he would start from the back of the field.
Wickens only turned three laps before the crash and wound up 25th on the practice speed chart at 222.325 mph. Howard was 22nd at 222.795.
Sage Karam of Dreyer & Reinbold and A.J. Foyt’s top driver, Tony Kanaan, led a pack of three Chevrolet-powered cars to the top of the chart. Karam’s top lap, 226.461, and Kanaan’s best speed, 225.123, both came with tows. Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 race winner with Andretti Autosport, had the top Honda car at 224.820 and was third overall.
Three-time race winner Helio Castroneves was seventh on the speed chart at 224.368. Pole winner Ed Carpenter was 14th at 223.573 and teammate Danica Patrick was 19th at 222.926 as she tunes up for the final race of her career.
With many drivers struggling to find speed in the new cars, Karam said he believes Wickens’ practice crash could be a pretext for what happens on race day.
“I think this race is going to be very challenging. I think it’s going to be the most challenging of the five I’ve done,” Karam said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of guys lose the front end of the car and skim the wall, kind of like what you saw with Wickens.”