Mike Conway knew at age eight that he wanted to be a racing driver. Twenty years later he is racing for one of the world’s legendary drivers which is testament to Conway’s brilliant potential and incredible determination.
Conway joins A.J. Foyt Racing as the driver of the No.14 ABC Supply Indy car--a newly designed Dallara chassis with a turbo-charged Honda engine that looks and sounds much different from the cars that have competed in the IZOD IndyCar Series over the past 15 years.
“It’s an exciting challenge I think for sure,” said Conway, who hails from a London suburb but currently lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. “We’ve got some great people on board; with the new car, it’s a big challenge for everybody. This year, it’s just going to be about development, hard work and making sure you’re on top of the car moving things forward every weekend. I’m up for the challenge and I think everybody on the team is as well. I’m excited to be with AJ Foyt Racing, I think it’s going to be a good year.”
“He’s fast,” said A.J. Foyt. “He knows how to win and he wants to run up front so we’re on the same page. I think we’re gonna have a lot of fun this year!”
The 28-year-old British driver is in his fourth season of IndyCar racing and it will be his first season with a single car team in the IZOD IndyCar Series. While the many benefits of a multi-car team are well-known—more data input, teammates to discuss problem areas on track—the experience of having all the attention focused on him will be both demanding and rewarding.
Conway knows how to win—he has done it in every series in which he has competed including the IndyCar Series. Last year he won the Long Beach Grand Prix which was only his third race after battling back from what could have been crippling leg injuries sustained in the 2010 Indianapolis 500.
That accident was caused when Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car (low on fuel) sputtered. Conway, at speed, came upon him between turns 3 and 4. He tried to avoid hitting Hunter-Reay but rode over his left rear tire. Conway went airborne and into the catch fence. The horrific crash split the car in two but the cockpit remained intact. Conway sustained multiple fractures to his lower left leg and a compression fracture in his back. His race season ended that day and his long and arduous journey on the road to recovery began.
In June, he returned to England and when the cast was removed at the end of July, he began a rigorous workout routine.
“It was literally five days a week from 8 am to 6 pm,” he explained. “I’d be in the gym, in the pool, getting treatments-physiotherapy-- literally doing as much as I could to get back in the car. I did that for three months and at the end of it I was pretty good. I still have to work on certain things now to make sure everything’s all good and in shape.”
The dedication and perseverance he exhibited during that period is reminiscent of his legendary team owner’s own exhausting rehab following his 1990 Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin accident which resulted in severe leg injuries. While Foyt rehabbed at the Houston Oilers training facility and used a hyperbaric oxygen chamber in a Houston hospital twice a day to accelerate healing in legs, Conway used a Kriotherapy chamber in a North London suburb twice a day. Both therapies are exacting on the patient.
“In some ways, I take quite a lot of inspiration from Mike,” revealed his father. “I think the way he recovered from his accident and what he went through to do that recovery was unbelievable. He used to go to a Krio chamber where the temperature is minus 135 degrees centigrade so if you spend more than five minutes in it, you start to freeze [note: recommended time is three minutes but Conway took it to the max of five]. He spent 3 months at a place in North London with his physiotherapist, and he used to go into the Krio chamber twice a day with just a headband, pair of gloves, swimming costume and socks. That’s all he’d wear.
“When your body feels it’s going to freeze, it starts to shut down and it brings all the blood from the extremities into the brain, the heart and the lungs and keeps that part of your body alive,” Conway’s father explained. “The idea is that all of the blood would be drawn out of his injured legs while he was walking around in the Krio chamber and then when he went out of the chamber, he’d warm up and the oxygenated blood would flush back out into the extremities to promote healing. He’d do this a couple times a day!”
Because of what Conway had gone through to recover from his accident, his victory in the Long Beach Grand Prix was a popular one throughout the paddock. It didn’t come easily even though Conway qualified third. A problem on the first pit stop shuffled him back to 21st. However, some heads-up driving and as Conway said, “luck on my side,” saw him vault past leader Ryan Briscoe on lap 72 of the 85-lap race. When he opened up a sizable lead over Briscoe, it was clear that Conway deserved to win.
“I suppose part relief and part happy, really,” he said. “We achieved it so quick after what happened the year before. You know I think we’d come close to some really good results before that and it was one weekend that came together really well. I had luck on my side that weekend and it all came together. Just a great thing really to get it all done and to do it the way we did it so it was good times.”
Conway’s path to the top of open wheel racing in America began with that series of evaluation tests which then led to competing in karting events throughout the United Kingdom.
“We took him to a specialist,” Conway’s father, also named Mike, revealed. “It was a big thing in the UK at that time to take your kids to see specialists who they test them and come back with a report. They tell you what they think they’re good at and what they likely could do to earn a living. The report came back stating that Mike had exceptional hand-eye coordination. He wanted to ride motorbikes and I said no, I don’t want you going on two wheels, so that’s why we put him in a go kart. It was instant that he was a natural talent.”
When young Mike was about 11, his karting career shifted into high gear with the family traveling throughout the country in a motorhome for 42 weekends.
“The whole family suffered to some extent because of the amount of time we would go racing,” said Conway Sr. “Friday night we’d have the motorhome all packed and go off racing and come back Sunday night late. We’d do that two or three times a month. He went to school Monday through Friday and he had to do his schoolwork in the motorhome at the circuit. He managed it.”
Conway won races and karting championships before moving on to the Formula Ford and Formula Renault series where he won that title in 2004. Two years later he was the champion of the British Formula 3 International; it was also in 2006 that he won the prestigious Formula 3 Macau Grand Prix.
Honored as the National Racing Driver of the Year at the 2006 McLaren Autosport Awards Dinner, he was named to the Honda F1 Racing Young Driver Program in both 2007 and 2008.
He explained the Young Driver program, saying, “If there were any spare testing days and new things to try, we’d do the testing instead of the racing test drivers. It was fun, it was good. I did that for a couple years. I came back and tested the Brawn, for the same guys that had run the Honda program—then I got called back to test again in 2009. That was the last time I drove an F-1 car. It was a lot of fun, they’re great cars.”
In 2007, he moved up to the highly competitive GP2 series which is the feeder series to Formula 1. Keeping true to form, he won a 2008 sprint race in GP2 at the historic Monte Carlo circuit in Monaco.
The following year, he joined the IndyCar Series and drove for Dreyer-Reinbold Racing. As a rookie, he scored his first podium finish –third--at Infineon Raceway and posted three more top-10 finishes. He also made the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying twice that year.
In 2010, he started on the front row at Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park and finished in the top-10 in three of the first four races. After his Indy accident, he didn’t have a ride lined up for 2011 and thought he might have to sit out the season.
Then an opportunity arose to drive for Andretti Autosport. Conway vindicated their decision to hire him by qualifying fourth in the season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla. Unfortunately he was taken out by one teammate in St. Pete and another one in the following race in Alabama.
His hard earned victory in Long Beach, Calif. illustrated Conway’s coolness in heated situations.
“Mike is very strong mentally, he’s a real cool character,” his father opined. “He’ll sit in a car with the exhaust falling off and the race is going on and he’ll sit there and wait until the exhaust is back on, then he’ll go out and race again. He won’t be shouting and won’t be ranting and raving, he’ll just sit there and trust the people around him. He generally molds people into the way he wants them to be—he’s a good team leader.”
Cool and detached in the Indy car cockpit, Conway is warm and personable outside of it—a plus for the team’s primary sponsor ABC Supply which regularly entertains an average of 300 employees and customers at the races across the U.S. Conway will visit the ABC Supply hospitality tent on race day to sign autographs and give guests a preview of what to expect in the race.
What A.J. Foyt expects will be an all-out effort from his young driver who knew early on what he wanted to do with his life and didn’t let anything get in his way.