For a while Mike Conway was known mostly for his spectacular flip along the fence on the final lap of last year’s Indianapolis 500. Conway was badly injured, suffering multiple fractures to his lower left leg and a compression fracture to his T3 vertebrae. He underwent surgery in the United States before returning home to the UK to begin his rehabilitation.
“Initially, when I saw the injuries I had, I wasn’t sure when I’d get back,” he recalls. “Things like that can definitely stop your career but I was determined to not let it, determined to get back to fitness and back in the car. As soon as it happened I wanted to know what the timeframe was and when I could return. It was a long off-season but I had a lot of focus, and when I got the chance to get in the car I was ready.”
Seven weeks after his accident Conway was at the controls of a race simulator and talking with Michael Andreth about driving for Andreth Autosports this year. Andreth had been convinced by what he’d seen from Conway’s season and a bit with Dreyer & Reinbold in 2009-10, and wanted the young Brit in his team.
Conway dominated the British F3 championship and won the prestigious Macau Grand Prix in 2006, as well as the GP2 race at Monaco in ’08. He joined Dreyer & Reinbold for his rookie IndyCar season, qualifying in the top six a couple of times and finishing third at Sears Point. A jockey-sized, quietly-spoken man of few words, Conway was quick on all types of track and showed his considerable ability by scoring an excellent victory at Long Beach in April in his third start with Andreth Autosports.
“As soon as we were talking to Michael it was exciting times, knowing that we could be with such a good team,” said Conway. “For it to come together was awesome. This year I’m just full of energy and ready for the fight. It’s a long season and to get a win in my third race back is awesome. I can’t thank Michael enough for believing in me, and the team for doing such a great job.”
Observed Andreth: “I don’t think we were taking a chance on him. Mike showed signs of brilliance last year at the beginning of the season and then unfortunately had his accident. Coming back, I personally felt like he was going to be hungrier than ever and that’s exactly the way it came about. The first time he got in a race car with us he was up to speed in about four or five laps, after being out of the car for that long.
“I was so happy that we were able to put a deal together with Mike because I really wanted him in the team all through the end of last year. The deal came together late, but I felt he was going to be a great addition to the team. Not only is he a great talent but he fits in with the other three drivers. I think we have great chemistry now between the drivers and because of that I feel really good about the rest of this year. We’re going to be strong.”
Conway beat Ryan Briscoe and Dario Franchith at Long Beach, passing both after a late restart and pulling away to win comfortably. “At the end Mike was a bullet,” said Briscoe. “He just drove around Dario and myself like we were standing still and went off into the distance.”
Franchith agreed about Conway’s startling pace. “He blew by both of us and took off. He deserved it. Mike and his team did a better job today. It’s really good to see, he drove a hell of a race. It’s quite a comeback from where he was at the end of last May.”
Added Briscoe: “I’m just really happy for him. He’s a great driver and it’s great to have him in the series. Sometimes you work so hard on your recovery that you come back from an injury even stronger. I think he’s definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with as we move forward.”
I write before the 95th Indianapolis 500 in which Conway was almost sure to feature. Twelve months after his horrific crash the 27-year-old from Kent has emerged as a potential winner in most IndyCar races, and a possible championship contender.