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Brit Conway Looking For Crown Of His Own

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 29 2011

Mike Conway won the IndyCar race at Long Beach two weeks ago. He goes for two straight this weekend in Brazil. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Shoved off the pages of London’s racy tabloids by William and Catherine and the royal wedding, Mike Conway quietly has reassumed the role of loyal British subject…in search of his second IZOD IndyCar Series victory.

Conway snapped an 0-for-25 winless streak dating to 2009 by winning the 37th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 17, less than a year after his career was jeopardized by a grinding crash during the 2010 Indianapolis 500. That hurdle cleared, Conway is approaching Sunday’s Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 street race in Brazil with the confidence of a proven winner.

“Well, yeah, I mean, it’s definitely possible,” said Conway, driver of the No. 27 Window World Cares/DHL Dallara/Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport. “Going to be tough, as always. Great drivers in the series. It’s going to be hard.  But I think the team did well there last year. I think they were top two (with Ryan Hunter-Reay). We should have a good starting point with the car and hopefully can carry on our momentum from Long Beach and get a good result.

“It’s a cool circuit. I’ll be taking opportunities, especially in the last corner. It should be a good, fun race. With the weather in the mix…we’ll see. Hopefully, get some more points

Mike Conway making most of opportunity with Andretti Autosport. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

on the board and try and stay in that top-five.” Conway is fifth in the driver standings, 48 behind three-time/reigning champion Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing.

Conway returned to his family residence in Sevenoaks, Kent, England two days after holding off Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe by 6.3203-seconds on the Left Coast. Conway took the lead from Briscoe with a pass in Turn 6 on Lap 72 of the 85-lapper of America’s most prestigious street race. To his delight, Conway generated considerable attention from a media corps fixated on Great Britain’s latest wedding of the century.

“When I landed back in the UK, that’s when everything was being put in the papers after the race,” said Conway, 27. “Some great coverage in the big national papers. Lots of coverage.”

And deservedly so. Recall that Conway competed in only six races for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing last year before injuries sustained in a final-lap crash on May 30 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

Conway suffered multiple fractures in his lower left leg and a compression fracture in his back after running into the rear end of Hunter-Reay’s low-on-fuel car through the short chute between Turns 3 and 4. The contact sent Conway’s No. 24 Dallara/Honda airborne and into the catch fence, splitting the car into two large pieces. As designed, the driver’s seat tub area remained intact.

Ironically, Conway posted his season-high finish of eighth on the Streets of Sao Paulo, improving 11 positions in the event that kicked off the 2010 season. The race was won by Will Power of Team Penske, with Hunter-Reay trailing by 1.8581-seconds in his Andretti Autosport debut. Native Brazilian Vitor Meira of A.J. Foyt Racing was third. Franchitti qualified on-pole at 104.058 mph.

Sunday’s second edition of the 75-lap event will be run on a revised 2.6-mile circuit in

Mike Conway's car slams the catch fence during the final lap at Indy last year. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar photo)

South America’s largest city. Multiple city government-backed infrastructure upgrades have been completed, ideally for the benefit of competitors and spectators.

“The entire course has been paved, and unlike last year when we were really struggling with time, this year it’s been paved with the Interlagos mix. So the pavement will hold up much better,” said circuit designer Tony Cotman of NZR Consulting, referring to the permanent road course in the southern part of the state of São Paulo. “But it’s a difficult thing. You pave and one hour later there are cars running on it. One day later you’ve had 30,000 cars travel over it.”

Because of that heavy traffic – there are 7 million vehicles in use in the city – the event will be limited to a compacted Saturday-Sunday schedule. The race will be televised live at noon (ET) by VERSUS and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network.

“It’s kind of good they compact it into two days,” Conway said. “At the same time it gives you a little less time to get things done with the car. If you want to make some big changes, there’s not that much time between sessions. Could be a little bit tricky. There’s no time for mistakes either, with everything being so compact in the schedule. We got to get it right.”

Cotman, meanwhile, is seeking a balance between the pavement being too smooth _ “it would be too slippery for the cars; no grip” _ and drivers losing their grip on the wheel because of unevenness. To that end, crews have ground grooves into the concrete Anhembi Sambadrome  _the permanent stadium section of the course used for the parades of Carnival _ to alleviate the slippery conditions that plagued the inaugural event on March 14, 2010.

Turn 1, a left-hander exiting the Sambadrome straight, also is wider with more runoff area. Additionally, curbs have been removed from Turns 6, 7 and 9. Those changes could

MIke Conway got his first IndyCar victory two weeks ago in Long Beach. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

amp-up the activity on a circuit that produced 93 passes last year on an 11-turn course featuring multiple overtaking zones. The nearly mile-long backstretch is the longest on the series’ calendar, with a 180-degree right-hand turn at its terminal point.

“That’s crazy, 93 (passes). That’s incredible,” Conway said. “You have a slow, medium corner on that backstraight. You can stay fairly close to the car in front of you. Yeah, with the ‘push-to-pass’ you can definitely get things done actually before you get to that corner.

“I think that is why it’s pretty close. Even though you can get a tow by, you can slot back in the car in front, make the pass in back again until you get to the corner. It makes it interesting, for sure. I think maybe there will be opportunities to pass going back into the chicane.

“It makes it interesting. Pretty fun, actually. The first couple sessions when the wheels spin in fifth, sixth gear, a hundred or so miles an hour, it’s pretty fun. They did change it so it had a lot more grip on it. I think the racing will be good with the changes. Rubber should lay as the weekend goes on and it hopefully should be good. There will be less slipping and sliding, for sure.”

The remainder of the Month of May will be devoted to the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 and a Conway comeback well ahead of schedule.

“I mean, straightaway I was thinking about when I could get back in the car,” said Conway, who signed with Andretti Autosport on Feb. 1 as teammate to Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick. “That’s all I really thought about. I knew I had obviously the physical things to get over first, but mentally I was fine really. Once I knew sort of the extent of the injuries, how long it would take, my mindset was basically just set on that.

“Never really thought about the accident after. It was never a positive thing for me to look back on it and see the accident. I kind of just got on with things and just focused on what I needed to do. Just got through things bit-by-bit.  You have to take your time with them things. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 29 2011
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