A year ago, Freedom Autosport took the inaugural Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge ST class win at Sebring International Raceway, in what was a breakout race for the pairing of Andrew Carbonell and Randy Pobst in the team’s No. 26 Mazda MX-5.
A year later, Carbonell and new co-driver Liam Dwyer look to build on what could be described as “the best ninth place possible” in the 2015 curtain-raiser at Daytona.
The two Florida circuits are miles apart both in location and design, and it’s Sebring’s handling-driven 3.7 miles that offers Freedom and Mazda a far better chance at success than the high-banked, top speed-focused speedway in Daytona.
“We really expected and hoped for a top-15 (at Daytona),” Dwyer told Sportscar365. “We might not have the speed others have, but our car had the reliability, didn’t burn up the tires and had better fuel mileage.
“It went green, so it played out well for us. You saw four or five cars run out of gas in the last couple laps. To get a ninth out of there, where it’s usually a win for BMW or Porsche, ninth for Mazda was huge for us. The crew was jumping up and down in the pits.”
The U.S. Marine Staff Sergeant did his part in aiding the result, in his first race co-driving with Carbonell. The two drivers bonded over the offseason, and Carbonell noted the two drivers have similar setup preferences.
“That makes it a lot easier for the team and the co-drivers to have the same thing,” Carbonell told Sportscar365. “We were both on the same page almost instantly. It’s so impressive since Liam is so new to the series. The rate he is coming up to speed makes my job that much easier.”
The MX-5 the pair are sharing this year is the same No. 26 chassis as Carbonell raced last year, but with some updates.
A handbrake has been added so Dwyer, who races with a prosthetic left leg, can pump the brakes better heading into braking zones. It now feels like a longer brake pedal, Carbonell said.
“It’s extremely easy to adapt to,” Dwyer explained. “Going forward to all the tracks where the brakes play such a big role helps to increase the confidence.”
Dwyer heads into Sebring without too much track experience. He ran a Spec Miata race there last year, where he impressed Mazda Motorsports enough to earn his 2014 opportunity with Freedom Autosport.
Still, he’s optimistic of feeding off Carbonell’s notes and insights to maximize the result this time around, where both drivers said a top-five is the goal. Dwyer also reflected on Sebring’s history as a circuit.
“It’s a difficult track and hard to be consistent, especially through Turn 17,” he said. “But this is a track that has both a lot of military historical significance and a huge history from the Twelve Hours of Sebring. You get a little nostalgic running there.”
For Carbonell, Sebring is a chance to put Mazda on the board in 2015 as he looks for an encore performance.
“Last year was huge for us, and for me personally,” Carbonell said. “It was huge for Mazda and the MX-5. It’s the track where I got my Skip Barber license. We wanted to confirm and show we’re a contender, so it was nice to set that in stone.”