American paralyzed racing driver Michael Johnson announced today at a press conference at Road Atlanta, on his 23rd birthday, his switch to sports car racing for the upcoming 2016 season.
Johnson, the first and only paralyzed driver to be licensed by INDYCAR, will now compete in IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, with 31-year-old South African driver and driving coach Stephen Simpson as his co-driver.
“Racing within INDYCAR has been a dream come true and I still have aspirations to compete in the Indy 500 one day,” said the Michigan-native and former motorcyclist. “I will deeply miss the wonderful people in open-wheel racing and will continue to follow from a distance.
“Driving in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge was too good of an opportunity to pass up as I look ahead for longevity in my career.
“This will be a great foundation for me, as a paralyzed driver, to be groomed for a professional career in sports car racing. I couldn’t be more excited for the challenges ahead.”
The Continental Tire Challenge is the foundation for grooming amateur drivers to compete, professionally, in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship (to become the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship beginning in 2016).
Johnson will drive in the Street Tuner (ST) Class, with a car prepared by JDC/Miller Motorsports, for which he spent the previous four seasons with competing within INDYCAR’s developmental ladder program.
His racecar will be specialty-equipped with hand controls provided by GuidoSimplex. Due to Johnson’s paralysis, his car is a complicated brake and throttle system-he presses a ring on the front of the steering wheel to control the throttle and on the backside of the steering wheel, he pulls a separate ring towards him to apply the brakes.
“I’ve known both Michael Johnson and Stephen Simpson for a number of years and believe this team will be a great addition to the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge,” said Beaux Barfield, IMSA race director.
“Michael has demonstrated tremendous ability in open-wheel cars, which I expect will translate very well to sports cars. Paired with Stephen’s natural talent, I think this team will be impressive. We’re proud to have them in IMSA.”