Michael Johnson, left, and teammate Stephen Simpson. Photos courtesy IMSA

Paraplegic racer Michael Johnson earns 1st career win: ‘Been thinking about this … since I broke my back’

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It’s a tossup whether there was more champagne or tears of joy flowing in victory lane Saturday at Lime Rock Park.

In one of the most emotional victories in IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge history, Michael Johnson, Stephen Simpson and the No. 54 JDC-Miller Motorsports Audi team captured their first-ever CTC win in the TCR class.

What made the win all the more special and sweeter is that Johnson, 25, has been a paraplegic since being paralyzed from the waist down 13 years ago in a motorcycle incident.

In one of the most inspirational stories in all forms of motorsports, Johnson never let his post-crash state stop him from continuing his lifelong dream of being not just a race car driver, but a winning race car driver.

Stephen Simpson, left, and teammate Michael Johnson following their win at Lime Rock Park Saturday in the IMSA Continental Tire Challenge.

Now, Johnson can proudly say that.

“I have been thinking about this win, coming in professional car racing since I broke my back,” said Johnson, a Lansing, Michigan resident. “This is all the hard work over the years coming together and everyone gets to see that.

“It makes me so proud that I can prove to everyone that I’m the same as everyone else and that I deserve to be here, and I love to be here.

“I’m so proud, all the talking and now showing people that I can finally get them real results. It clearly shows that it can be done and I am so proud that I can show other people, and talk to them, that dreams can come true with lots of hard work.”

And determination. Earlier this year, Johnson crashed during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, suffering a broken leg and significant damage to the team’s race car.

Johnson missed two races recovering from the fracture, but came back stronger physically, mentally and emotionally. The win makes it three podium finishes for the team this month at both Watkins Glen International and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

“It’s pretty crazy how it all worked out,” said Johnson. “It’s all the hard work we have been putting in this program is finally paying off and it just shows with the numbers and the results we have been getting.

“Hopefully we can keep the results coming with getting that win every time.”

Simpson, who has been teammates with Johnson the last three years, was beaming and effusive in complimenting Johnson.

“Michael did a fantastic job today, but not just today, the last couple of months,” Simpson said. “He really kicked things off and got us in a good position at the start and then the JDC-Miller Motorsports guys gave us a great car.

“It really was a team effort and I’m pleased to get the team and Michael’s first win in the IMSA Continental Tire Motorsports Challenge. It was an exciting end there and it was another good finish.”

Not only was it an emotional win for Johnson, it also came as a result of one of the most dramatic finishes ever seen in IMSA competition, with a last-lap pass and ultimately a photo finish.

With Simpson behind the wheel for the final stint of the race and Johnson looking on from pit road, after jousting with race leader Kenton Koch (No. 12 eEuroparts.com Racing Audi RS3 LMS), Simpson roared off the last corner and beat Koch to the finish line by a mere 0.066 seconds.

It was third closest finish in CTC history.

“We were both sliding around a lot and Lime Rock Park is a fantastic racetrack,” Simpson said. “I loved racing around here and I always do but there’s also not too many overtaking places apart from Turn 1, so I knew I had to try something a little bit different.

“I did back off the last couple corners to make sure I got a good run coming down the hill and out of the final turn. It just feels good when a plan comes together.”

Kenton Koch and co-driver Tom O’Gorman, in the No. 12 eEuroparts.com Racing Audi RS3 LMS, finished second, while Kuno Wittmer and Rodrigo Sales in the No. 74 Compass Racing Audi took third.

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View from the pits: Reporters’ picks for the 103rd Indianapolis 500

INDYCAR / Jason Porter
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It’s Race Day in Indianapolis, and for the first time, the Indianapolis 500 will be on NBC.

Time will tell what impact Mother Nature has on today’s 103rd Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. But no matter what, prerace coverage begins today on NBCSN at 9 a.m. ET, then transitions over to NBC at 11 a.m. ET.

All month long, the INDYCAR on NBC pit reporters have been bringing you the latest breaking news and stories for the Brickyard. Now, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast and Marty Snider share their insights from pit road. Read on …

KEVIN LEE

Throughout the last two weeks, one common theme has been, “Don’t crash.” There were five crashes, and four of those teams/drivers ended up in the Last Row Shootout. Two of the three bumped (Patricio O’Ward and Fernando Alonso) were in backup cars following heavy impacts.

Several drivers have consistently been among the strongest. Simon Pagenaud (pictured, left) not only starts on pole but has been strong in race trim as well. All three Ed Carpenter Racing cars are fast and appear good in traffic. Alexander Rossi looks like he can put his car wherever he wants, and Scott Dixon has five championships and 44 IndyCar wins, so he must be watched.

In order, my picks for most likely to drink the milk are Pagenaud, Rossi, Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Dixon.

KELLI STAVAST

A week ago, no one could have predicted that two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and McLaren Racing would be bumped from the Indy 500 by a single-car, part-time effort of Juncos Racing and its driver, Kyle Kaiser (pictured, right).  But it happened, and Kaiser now occupies the 33rd and final spot in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

So what next?  I spoke with Kyle five days after the dramatic qualifying effort, and he told me he has never been happier to finish last and that he is still “buzzing” from that experience—an energy he hopes to carry straight through to the race.  He also told me that the response from fans has been positive with people stopping him in public (including at Chipotle) to hug him and congratulate him on making the Big Show.

But reality might have set in for the Californian who now lives in Indy.  During Carb Day’s final practice, the team struggled to get a good handling car for Kyle, who described the day as “challenging.”  But Kaiser also acknowledged that the team made some progress throughout the practice and at the very least collected some data that might help for the 500-miler on Sunday.

Whether he finishes 1st or 31st on Sunday, Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing will have plenty of fond memories to carry with them from the 103rd Indy 500.

MARTY SNIDER

First, we cannot wait to bring you guys the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s an honor for our entire group to broadcast such an amazing event.

So what do we expect? I have no idea, to be honest. The weather will be a huge factor today. It might be a race to halfway if rain is forecast.  If it’s cooler (mid 70’s ambient, which it looks like it’s going to be), Alexander Rossi (pictured, left) was unstoppable in those conditions last Monday.

But Rossi was very unhappy with his car on Carb Day. For that matter, most teams were. But Rob Edwards of Andretti Autosport explained a few things to Rossi about all of the experimenting they were doing in final practice, and I think that team is in a much better frame of mind heading into the race.

I find it interesting that Simon Pagenaud’s team scuffed in literally every set of tires they will use for today’s race. The No. 22 camp is convinced (and they’re not wrong) that one of the keys to Will Power’s 2018 win was his ability to gain time on out laps after pit stops. Scuffing in tires helps that out lap time. It also allows teams to do a balance check on tires. Good thing they did: Kyle Moyer of Team Penske found two sets that had vibrations, which would have been bad in the race.

Bottom line, I haven’t seen anyone really stand out and show me they can beat Alexander Rossi yet. So I’m going with Rossi to win his second Indy 500.

Enjoy the show friends. It’s going to be a fantastic race!