Home / Canada / Virtual racing series has injured Canadian driver Robert Wickens back on the ‘highway’

Virtual racing series has injured Canadian driver Robert Wickens back on the ‘highway’

Canadian race automobile driver Robert Wickens is back behind the wheel, racing once more towards the identical drivers that he used to race towards each weekend on the IndyCar circuit.

Only now he is doing it from the basement of his Indianapolis residence.

The 31-year-old, left paralyzed in a devastating 2018 racing crash, is racing utilizing a complicated simulator, navigating the twisting turns of the Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.

It’s all a part of IndyCar’s digital iRacing series.

“It’s kind of a surreal experience, you know, for me, this is really step one to get back into the race car,” Wickens, initially from Guelph, Ont., instructed CBC Sports.

  • Jamie Strashin tells Robert Wickens’s story Friday evening on The National, 9 p.m./10 p.m. ET

It was Wickens’s first style of actual competitors since the crash at Pocono Speedway left him partially paralyzed and fortunate to be alive. His objective has at all times been to race once more.

When CBC Sports caught up with Wickens at his residence final November, he was relearning easy methods to stroll, one thing docs instructed him he would by no means do once more.

WATCH | Robert Wickens and his struggle to return to the cockpit:

Canadian Indy Car driver Robert Wickens survived a 300 km/h crash final yr, however his life won’t ever be the identical.  8:12

The iRacing series is a part of a grueling rehab course of that continues to this present day. Wickens stated being in the simulator is sort of a actual race, requiring the identical bodily stamina and laser focus he used on racing circuits round the world.

“If anyone who’s played a racing game at home or in an arcade, or if you’ve gone to one of those facilities where you can try a real racing simulator, going an hour without crashing on a simulator is very, very hard,” he stated. “And it was just very rewarding to cross the finish line.”

Both earlier than and after his accident, Wickens used a simulator to remain sharp however says it’s going to take some getting used to working below actual race situations.

“The feeling is so much more different. It’s a challenge,” Wickens stated. “It’s going to take a lot of patience, a lot of perseverance. But luckily we’re not really in a race against the clock to get back into a race car. “

The iRacing expertise getting used for these races has been round for about 15 years and has greater than a 100,000 customers worldwide. Most take pleasure in racing from their properties and workplaces, utilizing much less subtle tools than Wickens and different skilled drivers.

But the firm’s partnership with IndyCar and NASCAR and its means to create an actual life expertise has captured the creativeness of drivers and followers.

“There’s lots of games out there, but we do things a little different where we’re focused on truly being as authentic and as real as possible,” stated Kevin Bobbitt, iRacing’s advertising director. “We laser scan our tracks so there’s millimetre accuracy — every crack, every bump, every curb that a driver would experience in the real world.”

As the coronovirus pandemic has grinded the sports activities world to a halt, many leagues have struggled to discover a method to join with and stay related to their followers. The NBA and MLB try online game tournaments amongst their respective sports activities’ greatest stars.

Bobbitt stated automobile racing is exclusive as a result of high-level success requires the identical skills drivers require throughout an precise skilled race.

“What’s different is if you play NBA 2K or FIFA — and I love those games — but none of those skills translate. Using your thumbs to move a soccer ball around is nothing like playing real soccer,” Bobbitt stated. “So while other sports will do some online tournaments, I don’t know that their athletes will be the best at it. I just don’t know. It’s a different skill set.”

So far followers have responded. More than 165,000 tuned in for a digital race on April 4, about half of a normal Indy viewers. NASCAR numbers have been even greater.

IndyCar CEO Mark Miles stated he was initially skeptical about the thought and fearful it would not translate nicely to tv.

“It is really getting to a younger audience,” Miles stated. “In my thoughts, it is starkly completely different than what most broadcasters are having to do now, which is displaying perhaps cut-down previous sport however not dwell.

“And it’s so sensible. And then it is significantly enjoyable to see how aggressive and excited the drivers are to have an opportunity to get out on observe.”

For Wickens, it is an opportunity to point out that in spite of everything he is been by means of, he can nonetheless go quick.

“I feel my neurocognitive stuff shouldn’t be what it was once I was in my prime of my profession a few years in the past,” he said. “But, you realize, that is the good thing with the human physique, with some easy coaching, it will probably all come back.”

Wickens stated this all simply one other cease on his comeback journey, one which he envisions ending on an actual observe, in an actual automobile. And hopefully in the winner’s circle.

“I do not wish to come back as some sort of advertising marketing campaign the place I’m simply driving round. I wish to compete. That’s why I turned a driver.”

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