Apr 13, 2012
LONG BEACH, Calif. – A lot has transpired in Mike Conway’s life in the past year.
The 28-year-old Brit has switched IZOD IndyCar Series teams (from Andretti Autosport to A.J. Foyt Racing) and traded residences (from Miami to Scottsdale, Ariz). He’s been developing the new Honda-powered Dallara car through testing and two races, while cultivating a working relationship with his engineer and the colorful team owner.
At least when Conway hits the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach it will be familiar, and he'll allow a nostalgic moment of his 2011 victory.
“That one meant more to me than some other ones because I'd been laid off after May the year before (leg and back injuries suffered in a crash late in the Indianapolis 500),” said Conway, who started on the second row and recorded his first series victory. “With it being at Long Beach, well, I didn't realize the amount of history that race had until I was up there on the podium and saw all the previous winners' names etched onto bronze plaques in Victory Circle.
“It was pretty cool, and that's when it sunk in what had just happened.”
Conway overtook Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe with 15 laps remaining and held on for Andretti Autosport’s second consecutive victory at Long Beach. He’ll be seeking to add his name to that bronze plaque as a back-to-back winner ala Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, Paul Tracy, Al Unser Jr. and Alex Zanardi.
Of course it won’t be easy (drivers from seven different teams are represented in the top 10 of the championship standings; five other past race winners are entered and 22 of the 26 entrants have competed in the IZOD IndyCar Series race), but Conway and the team – led by team director Larry Foyt and engineer Don Halliday -- has shown promise.
He surged into the Firestone Fast Six two weeks ago at Barber Motorsports Park – a first for an A.J. Foyt Racing car since 2007 – and finished seventh.
“You hate to lose spots from where you qualified, but the one thing that was reinforced was how many good cars there are out there and just how tough it’s going to be this year,” Foyt said. “In the past I may not say this but if you get a top-10 finish it’s something to be proud of if you can do it consistently.”
Conway qualified the No. 14 ABC Supply car 11th at St. Petersburg, though a mechanical issue halted his run three-fourths of the way through the 100-lap race and relegated him to 20th place.
“We have a good starting point but have some work to do,” added Conway. “There's even less margin for error at Long Beach because of how tight it is in some sections of the course but that makes it more challenging. With a green street circuit, it's constantly getting faster and faster each time you go out, so you're constantly learning. You have to know what the circuit's going to do and how that affects your car's setup.”
Eddie Cheever gave team its best CART finish in 1995 (fourth after starting 18th) at Long Beach, and Vitor Meira finished ninth in 2011 after starting 13th for its best IZOD IndyCar Series finish.
“I love that place and will be tough to win again,” Conway continued. “I'll approach it like any other weekend, but obviously you've got that extra little excitement knowing that you won there the year before.”