Brian Vickers to return to racing at Las Vegas after health scare

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Nearly seven weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a hole in his heart, NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Brian Vickers announced on Wednesday that he has been given medical clearance to return to racing in early March.

Vickers is expected to be back behind the wheel of the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota Camry for the March 8 Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“The doctors gave me a clean bill of health and said I will be better than before,” Vickers said in an MWR media release. “Now all of my focus is getting ready so when I return we are prepared to win races and the championship in my Aaron’s Dream Machine.”

During an examination in early December, it was discovered that Vickers, who has had prior health issues with his heard and blood clots, had suffered another setback.

“I was not feeling well in December, so I went to see Dr. William Downey in Charlotte,” Vickers said. “He discovered my body was rejecting a patch that was surgically placed over a hole in my heart a few years ago. He and Dr. R. Mark Stiegel immediately went to work on correcting the problem.”

MORE: Health issues to sideline Brian Vickers for early part of 2015 Sprint Cup season

Shortly after undergoing successful surgery to repair the issue, Vickers issued a statement that he would likely miss several early season races while recovering.

However, with Wednesday’s medical clearance, the North Carolina native will only wind up missing the first two races of 2015: the season-opening Daytona 500 (Feb. 22) and the following week’s race (March 1) at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Team co-owner Michael Waltrip will replace Vickers in the No. 55 at Daytona. Waltrip is a two-time Daytona 500 winner.

The team has not yet announced who will replace Vickers at Atlanta.

Because it is a medical condition, NASCAR issued a statement Wednesday that despite missing the first two races, Vickers would still be eligible to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“With the clearance from his physicians, Brian Vickers has satisfied all necessary NASCAR requirements to resume racing on March 5,” the statement said.

“Further, NASCAR has reviewed the circumstances surrounding his situation and has determined that he will maintain Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility despite neither entering nor attempting to qualify in the first two championship events, provided he meets all other necessary eligibility requirements.”

This most recent episode marks the third time Vickers, 31, has been sidelined by health issues. The other two occurrences were in 2010 and 2013.

The 2003 Xfinity Series champion, Vickers has made 316 career Sprint Cup starts in his career, with three wins, 29 top-five and 77 top-10 finishes, as well as 12 poles.

As part of that tenure, he’s made 58 starts for MWR, with one win (New Hampshire, July 2013), eight top-five and 19 top-10 finishes, as well as one pole (Talladega, Oct. 2014).

In a note to his fans, Vickers wrote on his Facebook page: “Some great news. Can’t thank everyone who wrote in here enough for your thoughts, prayers and kind words… Very humbling.”

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IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area.

The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full IndyCar season. The team showed improvement at Thermal, and Grosjean (who was fourth fastest on Day 1) said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”