Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer, who has prosthetic leg, takes CTSC ST class win in Lime Rock

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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.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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