Busy week leads to successful Winterfest for Michael Johnson
 March 4, 2014| 
  • Team News
MOUNT MORRIS, MICH. -- Testing, meetings and speaking engagements combined with a very hectic travel schedule kept Michael busy in the week before the Cooper Tires Winterfest for Pro Mazda at NOLA Motorsports Park, La., and Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.
First it was off to Houston on Monday, February 17, for a final test with JDC MotorSports in preparation for the PRO Mazda Winterfest Championship starting on Friday the 21st at NOLA Motorsport Park just outside of Downtown New Orleans Louisiana.
Following the test Michael traveled to New Jersey to meet with the Kessler Foundation and their head of research to discuss the possibilities of the use of Michael's program to conduct a study with the goal to understand better what effects of Michael driving a racecar capable of producing high G-loads could have on his body beneath the injury Michael suffered when he was 12 years old and which left him paralyzed from the mid chest down.
Michael stayed with the Kessler Foundation on Thursday for a speaking engagement at the Foundations annual employee conference before heading to New Orleans that evening.
"My biggest worry was catching my flight and that it would be on time. It was the last flight that day to New Orleans and if I would have missed it I also would have missed for sure all morning practice and qualifing sessions for the start of the Winterfest Championship," said Michael.
The hectic travel schedule did not seem to have an effect on Michael, after posting the fifth fastest time during the only morning practice, Michael backed this up an qualified in P6 for the first race of Winterfest that same day in the afternoon.
"Everything went great. I never drove at NOLA but I got used to the track right away. The car worked flawlessly and after a couple of improvements on the setup we had the car dialed in pretty good with the limited track time before the first race. It also felt great to get out of the cold to be honest and race in warmer conditions," Michael summed up his first two sessions at NOLA.
The good starting position and speed Michael showed during practice and qualifying resulted in finishing in eighth place during Race One.
"I lost two positions during the opening laps after the start and after that I just focused on getting into a rhythm for the race which after the start and the opening laps was actually pretty eventless. I could not quite keep up with the cars in front of me but also had a good speed to control the cars behind me and made sure they could not get a run on me so P8 for the first actual race in PRO Mazda is not to bad," said Michael.
Starting lineup for Race 2 at NOLA was set by the second fastest lap from qualifying or fastest lap during Race 1 whatever would be quicker which saw Michael starting in 10th place for Race 2.
But before race two the following day got underway there where two additional practice session that morning which Michael finished in P8 and P10 respectively. After that it was off to the final race at NOLA.
"The race was great. I had a good flight going on with my old teammate Neil (Alberico) during the opening laps and we both caught the car ahead of us. I think at one point we were going three wide and I was able to pass one of the cars in the next turn on the outside. Race 2 was really good that I got to race with other cars throughout the race to gather more experience in the Pro Mazda under race conditions, so P8 in Race 1 and P10 in Race 2 was at least a solid start for Winterfest. We did not have any trouble at all, no spins, no getting together with other cars and a lot of green flag racing which right now is what I need most to give me more seat time in race conditions before the actual start of the season," Michael said the first two rounds of Winterfest.
With NOLA in the books it was off to Barber Motorsports Park for the final two rounds of the Winterfest Championship on March 25 and 26.
Arriving at Barber showed a different situation as far as the weather compare to New Orleans. It was cold.
"We tested here in December and it was about the same cold, so I kind of knew what to expect," said Michael who was now accompanied by 2014 teammate Kyle Connery.
"It's great that Kyle is here now as well. NOLA actually was the first race event I ever did without a teammate and it worked out great, but it still has its advantages to have a teammate to go with him over data and work together on the set ups and improving the cars," Michael explained.
P9 in the first practice following a little disappointing P11 in qualifying, after holding a top-five position for quite some time during the first period.
"In the race I got stuck behind a slower car after the start and when I finally was able to pass the group ahead of me was too far out of reach to catch them during the race. We had the speed and I was caching up to them but could not reach them in time. I would have needed a full course yellow to have a chance and improve my position," Michael summed up Race 1 at Barber which saw him finish 11th.
The final practice before race two saw Michael posting the ninth fastest time and he was starting again in the 11th position for the final race of the Winterfest Championship.
"I need to improve in qualifying to start further upfront. That and getting up to speed quicker in the opening laps are the key and the focus I need to work on," said Michael.
And he did exactly that in the final race.
"I had a great start and was able to pass three cars during the race. We made some changes to the car which also really helped, but the main thing is that I was able to post the fourth fastest lap during the race, so for sure the speed is there; I just need to put it all together in qualifying to start better and we will be in good shape," Michael said after a successful Winterfest Championship which saw him finish 10th in points but only nine points behind seventh spot.
The regular season will now get underway during the Indy Grand Pix of St. Petersburg, Fla., March 29/30 with rounds one and two of the 2014 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
About Michael Johnson: Twenty-one-year old paralyzed racer, Michael Johnson, is the first and only paralyzed licensed IndyCar driver. Michael was on his way to becoming a professional motorcycle racer, having won races and championships at 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 Michael has started racing and winning again and now has set his goal to become the first paralyzed driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500.
Michael drives his specially modified race car with hand controls and he became the first paralyzed racer to win in an open wheel formula car during round two of the Skip Barber Summer Series at Watkins Glen International Raceway in 2011. Michael went on to claim two further victories at Road America, and finished the 2011 season with three wins, one pole position, four third place podiums and several top five finishes.
In 2012 Michael moved up to the Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda Series with championship winning team JDC MotorSports. This is Step One of the “Mazda Road to Indy” program.
In his first year as a professional licensed IndyCar driver Michael had several top-10 finishing positions in qualifying and races on his way to 15th position overall in the Series. Michael is, once again, competing with JDC MotorSports in the 2013 Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship powered by Mazda.
Follow Michael on Facebook@michaeljohnsonracing, Twitter @racer54iscool and Instagram @johnsonracing54
For more information please visit: www.MichaelJohnsonRacing.com
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