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September 19, 2012
FLINT, MI. - Coming back to VIR (Virginia International Raceway) for the final race of the 2012 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series after a one day test just a week earlier, paralyzed racer Michael Johnson showed immediate results at the final event.
In the first two free testing sessions leading up to the first official practice on Thursday, Johnson was consistently running with the leading pack clocking in a 10th place in the first session and ninth place in the second session. He was able to back up his speed shown the day before in the two official practices before qualifying with a 12th place in the morning practice following a 10th place in the second of the two official practices at VIR.
“Coming here last week for the test definitely helped a lot to get comfortable with the track and also working on some stuff which we needed to improve on,” Johnson explained. “This track and our last race at Baltimore have been the most challenging ones for me so far in respect of the hand controls. There are some corners I need to cross over, break, shift down and steer all at the same time so I am definitely still losing some time there but I adjusted my lines so it’s not that big of an issue anymore.
“It’s so tight right now in the series that every small detail makes a difference. In final practice, a couple of tenths quicker and we would have been fifth and not 10th."
Qualifying turned out to be a different challenge. Johnson missed the top ten only by one spot qualifying 11th out of the field of 26 cars but traffic was the biggest hurdle to break again into the top 10.
“I really struggled to get a clean lap in and each time I found a clean spot to run in, qualifying was interrupted by a red flag," said Johnson. “My last lap was the quickest one but once again did not count because of a red flag."
Johnson started race one at VIR on the inside of row six in 11th position out of the 26-car strong field and had a clean run into Turn One. An on-track incident directly ahead of him a couple of turns later, with one of the cars spinning out, caused Johnson to break hard to avoid the spinning car and he lost a lot of track position as a result.
"Scott Anderson hit the curve and ended up spinning ahead of me. I was boxed in and had nowhere to go so I had to "jack up" to not hit him and I lost several positions to slower cars behind me as a result of it," Johnson explained.
He found himself in P16 behind a group of slower cars and it took him a couple of laps to pass them to gain back his original position.
"When I finally passed all the slower cars which slipped by me, the leading group was already gone by then. I would have needed a full course yellow to catch up. At the end I was catching Dalton Kellett for 11th place. My team told me that I was 0.6 seconds per lap quicker than he was at the time I caught up to him. I had a run at him twice and we were went side-by-side but I simply could not complete the pass," he continued.
A 12th-place finish was a little bit of a disappointment for Johnson but at the end he was able to score the 10th fastest lap which meant he would start in the top ten for the final race of the season the following day.
"My start for race two on Saturday was great," said Johnson. "I stuck to the outside lane in turn one and could make it stick. As a result I was gaining two positions at that turn but they got a run on me and gained their positions back at the following straight."
Johnson was running comfortable in 10th position, easily following the leading group ahead of him and already putting distance between him and the next group behind him, when a full course yellow neutralized the field for two laps behind the safety car. At the restart one of his competitors drove over his front wing, damaging it on the right side and Johnson lost four positions during that incident.
"I think Luigi [Biangardi] drove over the right side of my front wing on the restart, not taking the wing off but damaging it enough that the right side was dragging on the track while braking and under high downforce. As a result of the damage, I lost a lot of downforce on the front, which caused a huge understeer in the car especially in the fast turns but it hurt me most under braking when the wing really was dragging hard on the ground.
"It took me a couple of laps to adjust some of my lines and trying to drive around the problem, but after I figured it out I kept catching the cars ahead of me even with the damaged wing. It was really hard making positions since I simply did not have the grip I needed while breaking," said Johnson.
At the end, he was still able to make up three positions actually passing the cars ahead of him and finishing one position better than the day before in 11th spot.
"In the last two races we made up four positions in championship points standings finishing 15th overall but I had a chance to gain two additional spots in points," Johnson said. "We definitely had the speed this weekend. We were running in or close to the top 10 in each test, practice session and qualifying during the entire weekend so I am a little disappointed but that's racing. This was a great year with JDC MotorSports and I cannot wait for the new season to start. I learned a ton this year and I will be much more competitive when we come back in 2013.".
Johnson will not have to wait too long. The next test preparing for 2013 is already scheduled for mid-October at the road course of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"Yes, it is definitely sad that the season is over but we will do a lot of testing over the winter and we will be ready for next year," he added. "I really have to thank everybody who supported me this year: INDYCAR, the USF2000 Series and series' partners such as Mazda and Cooper Tires, my sponsors Universal Coating, SpeediCath, Alpinestars and the entire JDC team - they are simply the best and you cannot ask for a better team owner than John Church.
"I especially have to thank my family: my mom and dad, my brother but most of all my grandfather, who helped and supported me this year. Without all of them I would not have been able to do this."
About Michael Johnson
Nineteen-year-old paralyzed racer Michael Johnson, who currently is the first and only paralyzed licensed INDYCAR driver, was on his way to becoming a professional motorcycle racer, having already won races and championships on a regional and national level, when on August 13, 2005, he was involved in an on-track racing accident which left him paralyzed from the mid chest down.
After several years of recovery, Johnson has started racing and winning again and now has set his goal to become the first paralyzed driver to run the Indianapolis 500. He drives his specially modified race car with hand controls only and became the first paralyzed racer to win in an open-wheel formula car race during round two of the Skip Barber Summer Series at Watkins Glen International Raceway in 2011. Outside of his first time win at Watkins Glen, he additionally scored two wins at Road America, one pole position, four third-place podiums and several top-five finishes in the 2011 season.
In 2012 Johnson moved up to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Pby Mazda series with championship-winning team JDC MotorSports, step one of the “Mazda Road to Indy” program.
In his first year as a professional licensed INDYCAR driver, Johnson had several top-ten finishing positions in qualifying and races and finished 15th in overall championship point standings out of 36 drivers participating in the 2012 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
In 2013 Johnson again will compete with JDC MotorSports in the USF2000 series.
Follow Johnson on Facebook@michaeljohnsonracing, Twitter @racer54iscool and Instagram @johnsonracing54.
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