Mike Conway has announced that he will withdraw from this weekend’s season-ending IndyCar Series championship round at Fontana, following a slow performance during Wednesday’s one-day test session at the two-mile oval. The Englishman – who survived two massive accidents in the last three Indianapolis 500 races – has declared that he is "no longer comfortable" racing on high-speed ovals.
Conway’s place in the #14 AJ Foyt Enterprises Honda will be taken over by New Zealand-based racer Wade Cunningham, an oval specialist who raced for the team in a second car at this year’s Indianapolis 500, in which Conway was tipped into the fence after making contact during the race with Will Power (pictured top).
At the 2010 Indianapolis 500, Conway suffered an enormous accident on the final lap of the race. He was pitched into the catch fencing and suffered fractured vertebrae which put him out of action for the rest of the season (pictured above).
Conway finished Wednesday’s test session a lowly 20th-fastest with a best lap average speed of just 210.3mph. He only participated for the first two hours of the eight-hour test at the Fontana two-mile oval, before the team shut up shop for the day.
Hours later, Conway release a statement confirming that he would withdraw from this weekend’s season finale, and consider whether he would compete on oval circuits again.
"I’ve come to realize I’m not comfortable on the ovals and no longer wish to compete on them. I want to stress that I am not finished racing and to this end, I would love to continue with Foyt Racing, but that’s something we need to discuss in the future," he said.
"I’m truly sorry for putting the team and our sponsors in a difficult position, but this is the hardest decision I have ever made in my racing career."
The announcement is all the more disappointing for the team on account of the substantial performance gains it has made in the second half of the season, which peaked in a podium finish on the streets of Toronto.
The announcement obviously places Conway’s future with the team – and in the IndyCar Series, for that matter – into serious question, although the team has indicated that any such speculation is premature. Team director Larry Foyt told SPEEDTV that Conway could still represent the team at road and street course events, while another driver is sourced for its oval-racing commitments.
That mirrors the process that the Dragon Racing team took when it was forced to downsize its operation from a two-car effort to a one-car operation, after being unable to secure a large enough engine supply from Chevrolet to allow it to run cars simultaneously for Sébastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge. The team took the decision to split its line-up in this fashion: Bourdais (never a huge fan of oval racing) taking the street/road course events, while Legge would take the oval rounds.
For most teams, however, that’s far from an ideal situation. Having a part-time competitor would all but make it impossible for a driver to realistically compete for championship honours, not to mention the disruption that a continually-changing line-up poses. It would be surprising to see the Foyt team opt to split its line-up, even taking into consideration the obvious talent that Conway possesses.