Dean Stoneman is undertaking the challenge of his first season in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires under the umbrella of Andretti Autosport. But just a few short years ago, he was battling for his life.
In January 2011 – a few months after winning the FIA Formula 2 championship in Europe and just two days after he had signed with ISR Racing in hopes of climbing to Formula One in 2012 – Stoneman was diagnosed with one of the rarest forms of testicular cancer at age 20.
Doctors told him their rating system for the seriousness: “1” was the low end of risk and a “4” was serious. Stoneman was marked a “4+++.” His life was in danger.
“They counted 250 tumors covering my right testicle, liver, lung, chest and brain,” said the native of Corydon, England. Stoneman’s journey to recovery entailed “six months of chemotherapy (some lasting up to 18 hours a day), four operations, a lot of tumors and a lot of scans to monitor my blood count.”
But it didn’t keep him down. By 2012, Stoneman was back to doing what he loved: racing.
“I decided to race a powerboat with my best friend,” Stoneman said. “We won nine out of 10 races, which was a great achievement that had never been done before and also did another rare thing by becoming a champ on land and sea.”
The son of a former British powerboat champion, it seemed like an obvious route for Stoneman to take. But racing cars was where his passion has always been found, so he returned to doing just that in 2013. Stoneman drove a Porsche in the British Porsche Carrera Cup series in hopes of “getting back into the feeling of what it’s like to drive a car again.”
The two-seat Porsche was much easier on the body than an open-wheel single-seater and gave him a chance to ease back into things.
“After two races back, I won, which was a real good achievement. The feeling was great to get back into the car after such a long time, and to come out and win straight away felt great,” Stoneman said. “At the end of the season, I decided I needed to do a single-seater race again to see if I had still had the ability to race and win because I felt that was something that was taken away from me that I had to finish.”
He drove a GP3 car for the first time in late 2013, finishing in second place. He drove the entire 2014 season in GP3, winning five races and taking second in the championship. He split the 2015 season between Formula Renault 3.5 and FIA GP2 before turning his sights to racing in America.
But the journey in making his comeback wasn’t always easy, even to this day.
“Coming back, the hardest thing was the fitness; getting back into the car there’s so much pressure on your body, it’s physical and so challenging, and even today I’m not 100 percent,” Stoneman admitted. “There’s many side effects that I have to deal with. Every day is a challenge for me, so now it’s just about enjoying it and doing the best job I can.”
The journey back certainly had its share of rough days, times when Stoneman, now 25, thought he wouldn’t be able to get back into a car. But having family and friends around to give him extra courage and support are what he called the “main key” in pushing him to make the comeback possible.
In his Indy Lights debut at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg doubleheader March 12-13, Stoneman placed eighth and sixth in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport entry. He said he is up to the latest challenge.
“It's great to have an opportunity to come to the States and show my talents, with the Andretti name behind me, and a great car, great team and a great sponsor,” Stoneman said. “I’m ready more than ever to prove myself.”
The scars will always be there as a reminder of what Stoneman has endured, but surviving what he has makes every new challenge seem easier to accomplish in comparison.