Blood Boils in Indy Darkness

An active participant in life’s ups and downs, paraplegic race car driver Robert Wickens doesn’t mince words. “He hit me to get by, and then he hit a GS (Drew Neubauer),” Wickens said about IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Touring Car race winner Mikey Taylor. “I get back in front of him, and then their car is so fast that they just catch back up. I’m blocking for my life, and eventually all he’s going to do is just hit me out of the way. That’s what he does.”

That sentiment was echoed by at least one other in the somewhat deflated No. 33 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Racing pit box. “He hit Robert four or five fucking times!” said the exasperated fellow with a southern twang, who like Wickens also gets around in a wheelchair. “He does that every time.”

Robert Wickens chats with Alex Rossi pre-race while Marcus Ericsson, Felix Rosenqvist, Conor Daly and others mill about the car that Wickens shared with Harry Gottsacker.

“It was just good racing,” said Taylor. “That’s how we’ve all raced all season. I have a lot of respect for them. If I finished second at Indianapolis, I wouldn’t be happy either.”

The sedan race definitely helped put the Battle into IMSA’s Battle on the Bricks on September 15-17, 2023 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Finishing in the darkness on the unlit road course, late race rubbing and outright banging were the norm. The Taylor/Wickens altercation was just one of many in the waning laps of the 4 hour race.

Mikey Taylor’s Audi with polesitter Chris Miller at the wheel

Taylor passed Wickens heading into turn 7 with two minutes left, giving Taylor and polesitter Chris Miller their second consecutive victory and third of the season in their No. 17 Unitronic/JDC Miller MotorSports Audi RS3 LMS TCR.

“I knew if I had a big enough run, I’d be at least side-by-side,” Taylor said of his approach on the pass. “But he actually braked earlier than I expected, and I got a nice run around the outside. I don’t think he was necessarily expecting me to go there. It’s not a normal place to pass.”

“I don’t want to be the poor loser, but I’ve never raced the 17 yet this year where there hasn’t been contact,” Wickens said. “I can race everyone else without any contact. It’s just the way he is. If that’s how he wants to play, that’s how we’re going to play.”

Wickens and co-driver Harry Gottsacker will unofficially take a 20-point lead over Taylor and Miller into the season-ending race next month at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

Driver Harry Gottsacker with his grandfather “Uncle Hal” Gottsacker of Harley-Davidson dealership and drag racing fame.

Many Eatmyink readers will recognize the Gottsacker name because of Harry’s grandfather “Uncle Hal” Gottsacker. Hal’s Alamo City H-D sponsored Mark Conner and Mike Lozano at AHDRA and other Harley drag racing series. His Javelina and Gruene dealerships—along with his Uncle Hal’s hot sauce—sponsored NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Michael Ray.

The last few years Hal’s sponsorship has been spent getting Harry a leg up in road racing, where he is now a paid driver with Bryan Herta Autosport where he and Wickens lead the points championship.

Harry with his dad Rugger

On a restart with 11 minutes left, Taylor passed Wickens, who quickly regained the lead when Taylor tangled with the No. 79 NV Autosport Ford Mustang GT4 driven by Drew Neubauer in Turn 14.

Minutes later, Taylor pulled his Audi alongside Wickens’ Hyundai, and the final tussle for the victory commenced. When asked if there was contact in the dark, Taylor replied, “Oh, for sure.”

The two shook hands during the post-race celebration, but Wickens expressed his frustration with the late move and the previous pass on the restart.

The IMS safety crew salutes the drivers before the start of the race.

Taylor’s winning margin at the line was 1.138 seconds. The No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR co-driven by Mark Wilkins and Mason Filippi finished third.

The Fox Factory 120, the season finale for the Michelin Pilot Challenge, will be held Oct. 13 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. “We have to perform, every race, to catch back the deficit we had at the beginning of the season,” Taylor said. “We’re taking it to Atlanta now. I think the ball is in our court. If we win, it doesn’t matter what they do.”

photos by Tim Hailey, story by Hailey and IMSA

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