BRASELTON, Georgia — The plan to get Michael Johnson into a sports car began before a serious crash in March at a Pro Mazda race in St. Petersburg, Florida left him with a pelvis and leg broken.
Johnson, the 23-year-old paralyzed racer who has since recovered from those injuries, will move from the lower ranks of Road to Indy to the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge in time for the 2016 season opener in January at Daytona International Speedway. He made the announcement Friday at Road Atlanta ahead of Saturday’s 18th annual Petit Le Mans.
“We’ve been working on it since before St. Pete,” Johnson told USA TODAY Sports. “This accident put us on hold a bit, but we still had this plan in motion. It just took a while to get to this point. I’m super excited to get back to testing and going for Daytona.
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Johnson, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident aged 12, said part of the reason for the move was the logistics of gearing up and riding a sports car with the special equipment Johnson needed. The throttle, gear shift and brake controls are part of the steering wheel; Johnson presses a ring on the steering wheel forward to accelerate, then pulls another ring towards him to brake.
The larger size and space of a Continental TIre SportsCar Challenge car—a slightly modified production car—allows for better operating systems than Johnson had in his open-cockpit, single-seat Mazda Pro car.
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“One of the things I’m looking forward to is the kind of hand controls you can put in a sports car,” Johnson said. “They can work better with my needs and what I want to feel in the race car, how I want to work the throttle and the brake, I’ll be a lot easier to put in a beefier system and a more reliable system than the system I have now.”
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