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Mike Conway is Braveheart

April 20, 2013

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Racer Mike Conway is one of the bravest guys I know. After suffering huge injuries in a crash at the 2010 Indianapolis 500, Conway returned to competition in 2011 for Andretti Autosport and promptly won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. It was a tactical victory to be sure, but you’ve got to be there in order to get those wins and Conway placed himself properly to gain that initial checkered flag.

In 2012, he moved to AJ Foyt Racing, but didn’t have the same kind of success; it was likely due to synergy with the team but that’s the way those things go sometimes. Conway, whose roots are in road racing and who has excelled at the top of open wheel motorsports (including GP 2 and testing in F1), has had nothing but poor luck on ovals and, by the time the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA rolled around, he’d pretty much made up his mind to walk away from the discipline.

Conway told Larry Foyt he’d had enough and Foyt commandeered Wade Cunningham to take over the No. 14 ABC Supply Dallara/Honda/Firestone racecar for the finale. Yes it was short notice but Cunningham did a good job for the team as Conway’s substitute. His fellow drivers commended Briton Conway for his bravery and many of us in the media – myself included – did the same.

Conway didn’t have anything set for this year because of that decision, but he did make a pact with Bobby Rahal to drive a third Rahal Letterman Lanigan entry at the 39th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, site of his 2011 victory. While the weekend is still young, Conway’s shown he hasn’t lost a thing since his final drive for AJ Foyt last year at Baltimore.
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In the first, morning 45-minute session Conway’s No. 17 blu eCigs RLL Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone entry was second to Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg winner James Hinchcliffe’s Chevy-powered Indy car. the duo separated by 0.020 mph (101.479 for Hinch and 101.459 for Conway). In the hot, greasy afternoon session, he took second – again – to 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series champion and former teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, this time by 0.056 mph (102.054 to 101.998). It was tough to get a clear track during the afternoon, as three red-flag conditions dotted the 45-minute session and a fourth ended it.

The first red came when Sebastian Saavedra (No. 6 TrueCar Chevy) clouted the T6 wall, the second was for Justin Wilson (No. 19 Honda) who made contact with the T8 tires; Simona de Silvestro (No. 78 Chevy) slid into him. Scott Dixon (No. 9 Honda) got way deep at T9 and hit with the left side, coming to rest at the center of the track with only five minutes remaining, while EJ Viso (No. 5 Chevy) went into the T9 tires and ended the session.

As for Conway, the return to Long Beach is a good one. He spent three hours in a WEC LM P2 car last weekend at Silverstone and that exercise removed whatever rust he had. “From the outset we had good balance in the car and, in the end we ended up top-two in both sessions. That was nice and encouraging for the rest of the weekend,” he said.

With all the afternoon stoppages, “I got just one clear lap and I was lucky to get that,” Conway stressed. “Some people didn’t even get that so it is kind of hard to know where we line up in terms of pace. But it felt good. We have a few areas to work on to be quicker tomorrow; if we can improve some areas, we will be good.”

The weather in Long Beach has been fabulous, quite warm and sunny. We’re expecting a slight cool-off for Saturday and a bit more for Sunday with zero precipitation in sight, according to forecasters. It’ll be good racing weather for the 27 entered Indy cars and a possible chance for Braveheart Mike Conway to put his face in winner’s circle at Long Beach a second time.

By Anne Proffit

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