Dean Stoneman is a rarity. The young Englishman has two stories to tell, and both narratives deserve a place atop racing’s most compelling storylines.
Starting with the obvious thread to weave, Stoneman has proven to the world he’s one hell of a racecar driver in an incredibly short and efficient time period. He just completed a breakout season in Europe’s GP3 Series, earning second-place in the standings on the strength of five wins – the most of any driver in the thriving category. In what has become a running theme for Stoneman, capturing second also required a bit of faith and perseverance.
As a driver for the Marussia Manor GP3 team, Stoneman’s seat disappeared – along with the team – after Round 14 in Italy. Thrown a lifeline by Koiranen GP for the final four rounds, Stoneman shook off the late-season adversity, scoring two wins and another podium to close the championship in style.
His GP3 performances were even more noteworthy considering 2014 marked his first full season of open-wheel racing since winning the FIA Formula 2 championship in 2010. Stoneman beat reigning GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer to the F2 title, and appeared to be on the fast track to Formula 1.
If you’re curious about the long pause between his F2 crown and return via GP3, Stoneman had a good reason for the extended hiatus and it reveals an aspect of his character that cannot be defined by victories or championship standings: He was busy fighting cancer.
Knowing what he’s achieved behind the wheel of a racecar, Stoneman’s most impressive performances have been delivered far from Silverstone, Monza or Valencia.
“I was at my peak after winning Formula 2, I was given a test by Williams Formula 1 at Abu Dhabi, did a good job and the team was really pleased, had planned to move into World Series by Renault 3.5 the following year, and then in January of 2011, I felt something was wrong and went to the doctor. I was given the horrific diagnosis of cancer,” he told RACER.
Nearly felled by testicular cancer at the age of 20, Stoneman turned his attention from fighting for podiums to fighting for his life.
“It was Stage 4 plus plus plus,” he continued. “When I made it to the doctor, they said I was two hours away from losing both my legs if I didn’t have immediate surgery. The main tumor was wrapped around the aorta feeding blood to my legs. From there, they said I had 14 days to live without treatment, and that started six months of aggressive chemotherapies.”
With his racing career all but an afterthought, Stoneman and his family focused on beating the cancer that was invading his body.
“They start you on a weaker drug first because the stronger they get, the more side effects you have,” he explained. “It began with four cycles for three weeks – 12 weeks total; it’s Monday through Friday, 14 hours a day, and after the 12-week cycle, you have to wait for the chemo to clear your body to see if it did its job. Unfortunately, it didn’t.”
The script Stoneman envisioned for his life was far from what he imagined it would be, yet his yearning to defeat cancer and take control over his story proved to be stronger than the enemy within.
“The cancer grew back really aggressively, so I have to go back for a second cycle,” he added. “That was a Monday through Saturday cycle, six days a week, 18 hours a day. I did that for 12 weeks, had blood clots in my lungs, had a blood transfusion…everything you could possibly have. I had four surgeries, had the tumors cut away, and it was a handful, but I’ve lived to tell about it.”
Fitting the spirit of a racecar driver, Stoneman used his doctor’s initial diagnosis as a motivation to return to the cockpit.
“Going into the whole process, I was told that I’d never drive a racing car again,” he exclaimed. “I was testing a World Series by Renault 3.5 car about eight weeks after I left the hospital…”
Stoneman slowly worked his way back to racing, building his strength and endurance in GT racing and, for the sheer challenge, raced in the P1 SuperStock UK powerboat series and won the championship in 2012 before eventually sampling GP3 during the final two rounds of the 2013 season with Koiranen.
“Everyone’s dream is to get to Formula 1, but the funnel to get there is smaller than is reasonable,” he noted. “I’ve been to America and seen IndyCar, seen Indy Lights, and really like what it has to offer. Both are great championships, and I reckon America is the best option for me.”He became champion in his first crack at F2, a runner up in GP3 in his first complete season of open-wheel since beating cancer, and now has his sights set on America and the Verizon IndyCar Series. Stoneman isn’t against learning the ropes in Indy Lights, but also admits he isn’t scared by a move from GP3 directly into IndyCar.
American ace Conor Daly has been a development driver with the new Dallara IL15 Indy Lights car, and says the IL15 falls somewhere between GP2 and GP3 in terms of performance. Whether Stoneman would need a year in a car that’s slightly faster than what he’s stepping out of, or can make the leap into a Chevy- or Honda-powered Indy car would be up to a team to decide.
“Looking back on my GP3 season, it was very educational and I learned a lot when we changed teams,” he said. “We struggled throughout the season; we were never able to dial the understeer out of the car, and once we switched to Koiranen, the car was good, the chemistry was really good and we were immediately effective. Coming from a spec series with all Dallaras, you really see how a grid of identical cars are far from equal, and you also feel the influence a team has on a driver’s success.
“My goal now is to continue that momentum and secure a test in America. I feel I’m capable of going straight to IndyCar, but if I need to start in Indy Lights, I’m OK with that route. There’s a lot of interest building around both series, and I want to invest myself into a career there.”
With his sights set on America, Stoneman’s next hurdle will be to make introductions and create opportunities for himself with team owners in IndyCar and Indy Lights.
“I believe I have the talent to start in IndyCar, but with Indy Lights, you can also learn the tracks before moving up, but I’m not the type of personality to go for the easier path or aim low to start,” he said.
Cancer-free since 2011, Dean Stoneman is a living, breathing feel-good story. But quality teams don’t open their doors for stories; they want proven winners and future champions. Stoneman is confident he can be that solution and says his history of fighting through personal adversity, while compelling, isn’t a selling point. His fighting spirit to reach the top of his profession, as he shares, is the story he hopes will resonate with open-wheel team owners.
“I won the Formula 2 championship in my first try, I nearly won the GP3 championship in my first year, and there’s no reason I can’t go into IndyCar and do a good job,” he said. “I know it would be a big challenge, but with all I’ve gone through and proven to myself, I feel I’m ready and capable. I’m not afraid of challenges, and I’m ready for either series – whatever I can make happen for myself.”