The IndyCar Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach offered up its share of every kind or racing action.
Heartbreaking late-race mechanical failures, accidents between teammates, amazing passes (on a track where passing is supposed to be nearly impossible), smart tire strategy … and most important, a driver nearly crippled in a high-speed crash last season got his first IndyCar victory.
Andretti Autosport driver Michael Conway surprised everybody by coming from the middle of the pack to suddenly be taking third on a restart on lap 70 of the 85-lap race.
He surprised everyone again as he passed three-time champion Dario Franchitti, to take second. People were perhaps a bit less surprised when he pulled the same out-braking maneuver on Ryan Briscoe to take the lead, two laps later.
When Conway pulled away from the field to cross the finish line six seconds ahead, everyone had to wonder how he had saved his car and tires ‘til the end … and why no one had noticed this phenomenal driver before.
Conway handled his run to the front with admirable maturity. “As soon as I got in the lead I was thinking about winning already. I knew I just needed to forget about it and get on with the job at hand,” Conway told Versus TV.
Conway is not new to IndyCar. He started driving here in 2009, after winning the British F3 championship and a couple of years in GP2. Driving for Dreyer & Reinbold, Conway earned a top-five and three top-tens in 2009.
In 2010, Conway’s career and life nearly came to an end as his car became airborne at 200 mph on the final lap of the Indy 500. The horrific accident left the young British driver with a compound fracture of the left leg and torn ligaments and tendons in both legs.
“Initially I saw the injuries I had, and I just wasn't sure when I'd get back, Conway told Indycar.com. “Yeah, things like that can definitely stop your career. But I was just determined to not let it, determined to get back, back to fitness and back in a car.”
Conway signed with AA just before the start of the 2011 season, and while he drove well, he finished badly: 23rd and 22nd, after getting caught in accidents in the first two races.
In fact, it looked as if Conway would fare poorly in this race as well, as a pit-stop foul-up cost him many places early in the race. But the canny Brit saved his tires until the end, and knowing his car was particularly good on restarts, he bided his time and then pounced.
“There was a slight mistake on the pit stop—my mistake—I thought our day might be done, but I just had to hang in there and push all the way,” said Conway.
“On the restarts the car was awesome—it just came to life. Those guys [Franchitti and Briscoe] were struggling to get temperature in their tires and my car was good to go.”
Conway showed remarkable patience as he worked his way through the field.
“It would have been easy to start overdriving the car and try to make moves that really weren’t there,” he explained. “I had to make the right moves and hang in there, keep it clean, and push when I had to.”
Next: Wrecks, Mechanical Failures Stop Good Runs