Michael Johnson is ready for his transition into the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
After racing in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires for JDC-Miller Motorsports from 2012-2015, Johnson is making the switch to sports car racing with the same team.
He spent much of 2015 on the sidelines after suffering a broken pelvis, femur and a severe concussion while practicing at the Streets of St. Petersburg last March before returning to the car later in the season at Mid-Ohio.
Johnson — who was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident when he was 12 years old — said one of the big factors for his switch is the fact that hand controls are much easier to adapt to in a GT-style car.
He also said finding money to race had also become difficult in open wheel racing, and the prospects of having a successful racing career seemed much more viable in the sports car ranks.
“Later down the road, it looks like there is an opportunity for me to have the career that I want to have in sports cars than trying to get money to go into IndyCar,” Johnson told Sportscar365.
“Seeing people do that hasn’t been very successful. Some people – you have a select few who make it.
“There’s been a lot of drivers from the Road to Indy that had been making the switch over. This was the perfect timing to do that.”
Despite having a life-changing health condition, Johnson finds solace in being able to do what he loves – driving a race car.
“For me, being paralyzed from the hips down, I’ve been able to give everybody a new perspective on what it’s really like,” he said.
“Other people with the same type of injuries or a different injury – this is what you have, it’s not going to change, get over it.
“There are other things to have fun with and enjoy your life with… Make it all worthwhile. Hand controls are really a great thing to do it.”
Johnson has also developed his race craft to compensate for his condition by learning how to feel the car through the steering wheel.
“A lot of feeling that I’ve got through my body is through my hands,” he said.
“When I feel different types of what the car does and how it moves and I think this car will suit me a lot better in the fact that there’s a lot more finesse to it.”
Johnson’s debut Continental Tire Challenge weekend with JDC in a specially equipped BMW 228i didn’t go to plan, as electrical issues prevented the car from turning any lap until the two-hour and 30-minute race itself.
The electrical gremlins persisted and his day ended after only completing four laps, with co-driver Stephen Simpson not even getting any seat time.
Despite the setback, Johnson focused on putting the weekend behind him and is looking to capitalize on the remainder of the season and beyond.
“I missed nearly the entire weekend but unfortunately this is just one of those things that’s some form of any race weekend with a new car with any team, they deal with this,” he said.
“So I just want to get this hurdle figured out and past us so that we can concentrate on the rest of this year and focus on the championship for next year and be ready for Daytona.”