Vettel pulls clear in final practice for German GP

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Sebastian Vettel has sent out a statement of intent to Mercedes ahead of qualifying today by finishing quickest in the final practice session at the Nurburgring.

The German driver, who has never won his home GP, finished a full six-tenths clear of compatriot Nico Rosberg in P2 whilst teammate Mark Webber completed the top three ahead of the Ferraris.

FP3 got underway as the Nurburgring bathed in bright sunshine following rather overcast conditions for the first two practice sessions on Friday. Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg were the first drivers out on track on medium tire, followed by Sergio Perez who laid down the first marker of 1:33.684. The Mexican driver was quickly beaten by his teammate, Jenson Button, who moved one second clear before the Mercedes pairing of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton emerged onto the track. They moved over half a second clear of the rest of the field, once again underlining the impressive pace of the W04 car.

Red Bull were yet to respond though, biding their time before sending Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber out onto the track. They did not hang about, sending the timesheets purple as Vettel eased into 1st place with a lap of 1:31.294, followed by Webber – winner of this race in 2009 – who was just 0.004 seconds slower than his teammate on the medium tire. Ferrari looked to take advantage of an empty track during the middle of the session, but Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa could not apply too much pressure to the leaders, going 6th and 8th respectively. Valtteri Bottas told his engineer that the wind at turns one and two was making braking difficult whilst Maldanado had an off at turn seven, but he was able to continue. Any running for Williams was a great achievement following a fire in their garage this morning.

The final ten minutes saw the teams fit the soft tire to their cars in order to run a qualifying simulation. Ferrari were the first to strike as Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa went 1st and 2nd respectively but Rosberg soon re-established Mercedes’ dominance to pull four-tenths clear. Hamilton cold only lap half a second slower than his teammate as Red Bull emerged for the final time in FP3 at the Nurburgring. Despite going quickest in sectors one and two, Webber could only managed P2 on his first attempt, a mere 0.018 seconds behind Rosberg before Vettel succeeded in overthrowing the Silver Arrow at the top of the leaderboads, producing a fine lap to go 0.676 seconds clear.

The battle for pole does appear to be between Red Bull and Mercedes, with the two teams dominating qualifying so far this season. It is hard to see that trend breaking this weekend, although the stage will be set for a great race on Sunday.

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
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More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”