Photos courtesy Continental Tire

IMSA paddock surprises Marine veteran Liam Dwyer with book of thanks

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This Veteran’s Day, it’s worth taking a look at Marine Staff Sgt. (Ret.) Liam Dwyer, who’s become a regular in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge paddock in IMSA the last four years. His win at Lime Rock Park co-driving with Tom Long in a Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 in 2014 helped put him on the map, and Dwyer’s been a full-time competitor ever since from the full 2015 season through 2017. He nearly won the 2015 ST class championship co-driving with Andrew Carbonell.

Dwyer, now, is in recovery following major surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He’s been released from hospital and is now home, but already undergoing PT.

At the end of this year’s IMSA season, the Continental Tire paddock extended a book of thanks – and somewhat off-color anecdotes to match Dwyer’s sense of humor – in a complete surprise to him ahead of the surgery.

That full story is below from Mazda Motorsports, along with Dwyer’s recent tweets of thanks.

“I swear, if people knew what happened in my life on a daily basis,” said Marine Staff Sgt. (Ret.) Liam Dwyer, “they would say ‘how the $#%* are you racing?’”

Mazda racer Dwyer is currently at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, recovering from an intensive but successful surgery on his right leg. It is the first of several major surgeries scheduled for him in the coming months, but it’s nothing new for the 36-year-old native of Litchfield, CT, who is a multi-time race winner in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series.

Dwyer suffered grave injuries in 2011 when he stepped on an explosive while on patrol in Afghanistan. The blast meant his left leg was amputated at the knee, while his torso and remaining limbs suffered disfiguring injuries. He has survived approximately 50 surgeries since. If the recovery is a success, it means a life with more mobility and less pain for Dwyer. If he heals well (estimated at three months), Liam will become one of the first to undergo a new innovative procedure to place a rod in his left femur, allowing a healthier and more sturdy connection for his prosthesis.

While he admits that losing the ability to drive race cars is his biggest fear, the always-positive Dwyer has a new source of inspiration for his recovery. At the recent season-ending banquet for the IMSA Continental Tire series, he was presented with a hand-made, leather-bound book that had been signed with notes and well-wishes from nearly everyone in the IMSA paddock area to let him know they’re with him on his recovery.

“I got called up on stage for this book,” Dwyer, who races a Mazda MX-5 for Freedom Autosport, said about the emotional surprise. “It was one of my proudest moments. Proudest in all of racing. I’ve put a lot of effort into what I do here. And, for that to be recognized by my fellow competitors, IMSA people, my crew members, other crew members, that means a lot.

“I’m not the guy that’s always qualifying in the front two or three, but that doesn’t go for lack of trying,” said Dwyer. “My biggest critic is myself. I take a lot of pride in what I do, really doing everything I can to get better at this. I think it’s shown with my growth every single year. But, for my fellow competitors and everyone around to see what I’m doing to get better. It makes it quite a bit easier because it keeps positive thoughts in your mind.”

The book was the idea of Sheri Herrmann, content and communications manager for Continental Tires, the series sponsor, who made sure everyone signed it while keeping it a secret from Dwyer.

“After hearing Liam describe the details of his surgeries, I knew they were serious procedures,” said Herrmann. “They will be life-changing for Liam, and will hopefully provide him a better day-to-day life. But it means time away from his racing family, so I wanted him to know that his racing family is there with him on this journey. Supporting him, praying for him, and giving him the encouragement he needs to get through what is sure to be a tough few months.

“In July, I began collecting messages of thanks, inspiration, motivation, and in some cases, probably some bad humor,” Herrmann said. “It certainly wasn’t easy hunting everyone down without Liam knowing. And a big thanks to Andrew Carbonell for helping secure messages from all the Freedom Autosport team. The end result was worth all of it. He will have this journal to lift him up on the bad days, provide a few laughs, and know how much he means to the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge paddock.”

IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge / Biscuitville Grand Prix / Virginia International Raceway, Alton, VA USA
Saturday 26 August 2017 /26, Mazda, Mazda MX-5, ST, Liam Dwyer signs autograph for young fans
World Copyright: Scott R LePage /LAT Images

Dwyer still seems amazed at how many people he regards as legends took time to sign the book – or even know who he is.

“If what I do resonates through the paddock, it was awesome that people would tell me and thank me for it. They took their time to think about what they’re going to say and there was no holds barred with the…” the Marine Dwyer said, pausing while laughing about what good-natured coarseness he might find in the pages. “I’m probably going to read a few and say ‘that a%#hole!’ But, it’s from everyone’s heart. There are legends, and these guys are aware of who I am, they see what I do and that’s truly humbling. I think ‘you know who I am?! Really?!’ That’s very shocking because I don’t think I’m doing anything special. Going out there driving cars. So, that’s pretty awesome.”

Even the prospect of yet another “surprise” surgery hasn’t dampened his mood.

“Before the surgery, I mentioned to my doctor that I had been having some pain in my hand since July. I had noticed some atrophy and pain pushing my wheelchair,” Dwyer said. “I didn’t take it seriously. ‘Oh, it’s just some pain, don’t worry about it.’ But, the hand surgeon looked at it and said ‘Your thumb is dislocated!’ So, I have been racing all summer with a dislocated thumb. And how do you fix it? Yeah – surgery. So there’s another one for next year. It’s just a life of comedy here!”

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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