All wins are special; A few are magical. Thanks to outstanding performances by Freedom Autosport and CJ Wilson Racing, it was the second straight Mazda MX-5 Miata 1-2-3 podium sweep in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Street Tuner race at Lime Rock Park on Saturday after a similar sweep at Mazda Raceway earlier in the month. The magical part relates to the winning drivers and car.
Co-driving the winning car was U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer. Three years and two days prior, Dwyer lost his left leg when he stepped on an IED while serving in Afghanistan. Saturday, in just his second professional race, he tasted the winner’s champagne.
“This was a storybook ending to a fairy tale that even Hollywood couldn’t make up” said Dwyer. “So many people at Freedom Autosport, Long Road Racing, and Mazda made this opportunity possible. The Mazda MX-5 was clearly the best car here at Lime Rock. My whole goal was to get the car to [co-driver] Tom [Long] in one piece, such that Tom could content for the win. I can’t thank Tom enough for being a great coach, phenomenal driver and a friend who believed in me.”
Long, Co-driving with Dwyer, was spending his ‘off weekend’ from racing the Mazda SKYACTIV-D Prototype in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, just as he did at the last stop for the series at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, although there he was doing double duty in both series.
“Liam’s extreme perseverance and talent to get here leaves me speechless. The Freedom Autosport guys worked so hard to get this car built. The Mazda MX-5 really is on rails at a handling track like Lime Rock. It was hard to battle for the lead and conserve fuel. The fuel pressure alarm was on at the end, but hey, the Mazda MX-5 isn’t just fast, it gets great fuel mileage. It couldn’t be a better day,” said Long.
For the Freedom Autosport team, it was their third win in a row. Making this win extra special, beyond having Dwyer behind the wheel, was the fact that the car had been built in less than three weeks to repair accident damage suffered at Mazda Raceway, and had never turned a wheel prior to practice on Friday morning.
While Long and Dwyer ran top-10 times in practice, rain cancelled qualifying and grid positions were determined by championship points. With their first race being a DNF at Mazda Raceway, Dwyer started from the back of the competitive 33-car Street Tuner field. During his opening stint, Dwyer ran competitive laps and moved the car forward almost 10 places. The team chose to pit early when a full-course caution came out. This allowed the team to do the required driver swap, the exchange being complicated by Dwyer’s prosthetic leg being attached to the clutch pedal.
After the swap, Long continued the move forward, taking the lead by lap 68. The remainder of the race was a three-way battle between Long and the CJ Wilson Racing Mazda MX-5s of Stevan McAleer and Marc Miller. Long survived an off-road moment and a half-spin, and managed to optimize his fuel efficiency to avoid the need for late race stop which slowed many of the competitors.
The win extended Mazda’s lead in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Street Tuner Manufacturers Championship, heading BMW, Honda, Porsche, and Nissan. McAleer and McCumbee took over the lead in the driver standing with the No. 5 CJ Wilson Mazda team leading the team standings.