Vettel fights off Lotus challenge to win home grand prix

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Sebastian Vettel has won the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring after a stunning performance that saw him stave off Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean to claim his first win on home soil.

The German driver took the lead at the start of the race and never looked back, although Lotus’ strategy did appear to threaten Red Bull’s dominance, nor was Vettel’s cause aided by a safety car following a bizarre incident.

The start saw Red Bull display just why they are three-time world champions, launching off the line as both Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber passed pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton into turn one, who immediately had to fend off Raikkonen behind. Ferrari made a good start as Felipe Massa leapfrogged Daniel Ricciardo, but Fernando Alonso could not do the same and they both began to drop back from the leaders as they ran on the medium compound. Things soon went from bad to worse for Massa though, with the Brazilian spinning at turn one and stopping on the inside of the corner, ending his race there.

Pirelli had predicted that the first round of stops would come early on, and it turned out to be the case as Hamilton pitted on lap 6 in order to try to get the jump on the Red Bulls. Vettel managed to maintain his advantage, putting Rosberg between himself and Hamilton, but there was a disaster in the Red Bull garage as a problem with Webber’s wheel saw him lose an entire lap as well as sending a Pirelli bouncing along the pit lane. Hamilton could not pass Rosberg, falling into the clutches of Kimi Raikkonen whose teammate, Romain Grosjean, was setting a blistering pace at the front as Vettel also charged in P3 behind Alonso. Ferrari soon pitted their sole remaining driver despite not even meeting half of Pirelli’s prediction for the medium tire. Grosjean gave up the lead when he stopped, but the Lotus emerged an excellent P3 ahead of the Rosberg-Hamilton-Raikkonen battle, easily passing second-placed Button on his outlap. The Frenchman then set about catching Vettel; a task many have tried and failed to complete over the past few seasons.

Mercedes’ tire troubles emerged once again as Hamilton dropped behind Raikkonen and came under heavy pressure from Alonso for P5, eventually pitting for fresh rubber once his Pirelli’s had given up. Jenson Button was having no such problems, going deep into the race on his first set of mediums before finally pitting on lap 22. Jules Bianchi’s race came to an early end thanks to an engine failure, leaving plumes of smoke across the track, but his Marussia then began to roll down hill onto the circuit, requiring a safety car. This triggered the second round of stops with Vettel maintaining his lead over Grosjean and Raikkonen.

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On the restart, Webber managed to move up to P15 after unlapping himself under the safety car, but Sergio Perez faced a stiffer challenge from Pastor Maldonado in the battle for 8th. Vettel, Grosjean and Raikkonen all exchanged fastest lap times as the Lotus drivers closed on the home favorite. Struggling to find a way past, Grosjean opted to pit on lap 40 for the final time, trying to utilize the undercut but Vettel pitted just one lap later, which released Raikkonen into the lead. The Finnish driver did not react in kind, instead staying out and setting personal best after personal best in order to try and create a gap. In the meantime, Nico Hulkenberg slipped past Rosberg for P10 and the final points-paying position, bringing some delight to the troubled Sauber team. Hamilton soon followed as his teammate suffered with heavy tire wear before the Briton passed Hulkenberg and began to catch compatriot Paul di Resta.

Raikkonen eventually had to bail and pitted for fresh tires, coming out behind Vettel and Grosjean on the softer compound ahead of Alonso who also took on options. Both drivers began to put in some quick lap times, catching the leading pair lap by lap. Thanks to DRS, Raikkonen closed right up to Grosjean before passing at the chicane with five laps to go. Grosjean soon fell back, allowing Alonso to close. Raikkonen continued to cut Vettel’s lead, with the gap standing at just one second with two laps to go.

However, it was not enough as Sebastian Vettel finally broke his July curse by winning for the first time in the month, as well as winning his maiden home race. Lotus will be delighted to have completed the podium after Grosjean held on ahead of Alonso, whilst Lewis Hamilton recovered well to finish 5th ahead Button and a charging Mark Webber. Sergio Perez, Nico Rosberg and Nico Hulkenberg completed the points.

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.”