Conway turns back on oval racing

Travelling at speeds in excess of 220mph, wheel to wheel with 30 other cars a matter of inches from a concrete wall, it takes a brave man to be an IndyCar driver.

It takes a braver man to walk away.

But that is exactly what Sevenoaks driver Mike Conway has done, calling time on racing around oval circuits after four trying years in the sport.

Whilst testing in Fontana ahead of the final race of the 2012 season, Conway decided enough was enough.

“It wasn’t a quick thought,” he told BBC Radio Kent. “It’s been in the back of my mind during the season but I just ignored it

“When I got to Fontana, getting on track just flicked the switch.

“It wasn’t the track or the car, it just sunk in then. I didn’t want to race on the ovals any more.

“I didn’t feel 100% and when you feel like that, you’re more of a danger to everyone else.”

The AJ Foyt pilot has endured a tumultuous time in the sport since signing for Dreyer and Reinbold Racing in 2009.

He won just once, at Long Beach in April 2011, adding another podium around the streets of Toronto this July.

The rest of the 2012 season was largely disappointing, finishing in the top ten three times before ending his season early on the eve of the final race.

“It was only 1 o’clock and we were going to be there on track at 8,” he continued.

“I pulled my engineer aside and said I’m not comfortable driving the car anymore. He was a bit shocked.

“He told me to get back in and we did another run. After that I said no.

“We had a drive around the paddock for an hour, talking about how I was feeling. I spoke to my manager and my dad and they were 100% behind me.

“I had to go in and see the boss, AJ and Larry, and they were pretty shocked about it. They’re on my side and thought it was the right decision.”

Conway has been no stranger to danger during his time in the sport. 

In 2010, he nearly lost his life in a horrific accident on the final lap of the 2010 Indianapolis 500.

He escaped with the broken leg and a compression fracture in his back and then was fortunate to walk away with minor injuries crashing on the same circuit in May.

Following the death of Englishman Dan Wheldon in Las Vegas last October, Conway admitted to feeling uncomfortable racing at such high speeds in close proximity to other cars but insisted a culmination of events led to his announcement.

“With a couple of things of Indy and at the end of last year, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” he continued.

“Maybe it was there in the back of my mind, being injured before and I lost a friend last year. It wasn’t 100% that.

“They do hurt any time you have a thump on an oval. I didn’t want any of that to happen again.

“The series works very hard to make it as safe as possible but at those speeds, it’s always difficult to control what happens in an accident.”

The 29-year-old’s decision has been described as brave by many in the paddock.

Ryan Briscoe, Will Power and Tony Kanaan have expressed their understanding at his decision.

 “I didn’t even think about what people’s reactions would be to be honest.

“I just wanted to tell the truth. I wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed.

“There have been a lot of nice things said from other drivers and people throughout the sport. It’s nice to know people have got your back.”

A former Formula One test driver for Honda, Conway impressed rising up through the motorsport ranks.

In 2006 he beat current Williams driver Bruno Senna to the British F3 International Series before winning the prestigious Macau Grand Prix.

The Bromley-born driver insisted he still had plenty of offer as a racing driver.

“I want to continue racing in any kind of category,” he said. “It’s just ovals, I don’t want to race them any more.

“I feel like I’ve got a weight off my shoulders.

“There’s lots of things I still have to tick off my list like the Daytona 24hr and Le Mans.

“Because I’m saying I don’t want to race ovals, that limits me on what I can do in Indy but opens up other opportunities

“It’s the right decision. I felt good about it as soon as I said it. It’s exciting. It’s a different chapter in my life.”