Freedom Autosport delivered arguably its most emotional of five consecutive victories at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this past Saturday, in the third round of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season.
This win continued the team’s recent dominance for the Mazda MX-5s at the circuit.
After a year when only one Freedom car led the way ahead of a pair of MX-5s from CJ Wilson Racing, Freedom returned to a 1-2 result with Andrew Carbonell and Liam Dwyer taking the win. The team went 1-2 in each of 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Carbonell’s win Saturday came after a final lap pass of teammate Tom Long at Turn 10, with Long leaving enough room on the inside for Carbonell to come through.
Carbonell now has four wins at the track in the last five years, with three different co-drivers. He shared the winning MX-5 with Rhett O’Doski in 2011 and 2013, and with Randy Pobst last year.
But winning with the U.S. Staff Sargeant Marine-turned-driver in Dwyer added an extra layer of significance.
“It’s incredible to come here with Liam, given everything he’s done,” Carbonell told Sportscar365. “He had an incident 20 minutes in last year.
“To come back, qualify eighth, run a perfect stint and turn over a clean car, that just speaks wonders of him.
“When he gets knocked down, he gets back up, and he proves that over and over again.”
Dwyer enjoyed what was easily his best qualifying run to date on Friday, lining up eighth and then redeeming himself after his incident here last year in his series debut.
“I was exponentially more comfortable for two reasons,” Dwyer told Sportscar365. “More time in car always helps. This is a learning curve for me, for the team, for the series, how to adapt the car for me to the series to be successful and obviously be safe.
“Last year the issue I had was with the brakes, and it was an error on my part. Now we have a new team under us and did some preseason testing, and I said, ‘Look, I have this issue, can we fix it?’ And they did.
“That adds that handbrake to the steering wheel, which allows me to pre-load the brakes before I come into the corner. That was my biggest weakness last year, and it reduced the confidence, and reducing my ability to perform to the level I can perform.”
Dwyer handed over the No. 26 MX-5 to Carbonell with no issues after completing the 45-minute minimum drive time, and then watched from the pit wall with fellow Staff Sgt. Aaron Denning for the remainder of the race.
The waiting, Dwyer said, was the hardest part.
“I talked about this with John Doonan and others in pit lane,” Dwyer said. “I would love to be in that position, to be in the seat. I think in my opinion that part’s easier. Taking nothing away from Andrew, for the amount of pressure that is on him.
“But when you’re in pit lane, you feel useless. All you can do is sit there and watch. You want to be the one with everything in control.
“But there’s a lot of faith in the driver who can do exactly that, and that’s exactly what Andrew did. He drove a phenomenal last stint.”
Denning – the man who saved Dwyer’s life in Afghanistan – was there alongside, which only added to the emotional element of the moment.
“That was the longest four or five minutes there, the end of that race,” Denning told Sportscar365. “To see the 26 car come through at the end was amazing.
“It was like something out of a movie. I was in shock. To piece it together, and see it happen with Liam, was amazing. That’s a moment I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”