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.
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.