Perhaps one of the most inspirational stories in racing has occurred at Lime Rock Park this weekend, in today’s IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge ST class race.
U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer, an Afghanistan veteran who lost his left leg three years ago, is a race winner in the series after co-driving with Tom Long to win in the No. 27 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5. The win is the team’s third in a row, after teammates Andrew Carbonell and Randy Pobst won races at both Sebring and Mazda Raceway.
But Dwyer is the bigger story; he only made his CTSC series debut at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca three weeks ago.
Dwyer impressed with his acclimation to the Freedom Autosport team’s Mazda MX-5 car, in a car that has a specially designed “quick release” to allow for Dwyer to extract himself for the car at a similar pace to his co-driver, Mazda ace Long.
Dwyer built up his endurance and strength training in lower divisions of sports car racing, and thanks to Mazda, had his opportunity in CTSC three weeks ago.
In today’s race Long took over late in the race following Dwyer’s opening stint. In the final 25 minutes, Long had a spin and lost the lead to the sister MX-5 from CJ Wilson Racing, driven by young Scottish rising star Stevan McAleer.
But that car needed a late splash of fuel with five minutes remaining to lose the lead. The stop was exacerbated by a pit road speeding penalty, and McAleer and co-driver Chad McCumbee finished second by 22 seconds.
The second CJWR MX-5, driven by Tyler McQuarrie and the returning Marc Miller, who missed Mazda Raceway due to injuries sustained in a Sebring accident, finished third to complete Mazda’s second straight MX-5 ST podium sweep. The No. 26 Freedom entry (Carbonell, Pobst), the No. 3 CJWR MX-5 (McQuarrie, Elliott Skeer) and No. 5 CJWR MX-5 pulled off the feat three weeks ago at the manufacturer’s home track.
Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.
If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”
The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.
Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.
But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.
“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.
“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”
Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.
“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.
“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”
During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:
–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;
–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;
–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”
–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.
“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”