After Toronto success, Bourdais confident going into Mid-Ohio

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A busted trophy wasn’t going to bring Sebastien Bourdais down after scoring his first American open-wheel podium finish since 2007.

“I was so damn happy that we finally got a [good] result,” the Frenchman recalled this morning during an INDYCAR conference call. “Anything could have happened – I could’ve fallen off the podium – it would not have mattered at that point.

“Nobody could take away that result we were looking for. We’re not looking for trophies, we’re looking for results.”

Bourdais’ mishap with his runner-up prize following Race 1 of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader has been replayed many times and has likely caused more than a few chuckles. But his results at Exhibition Place were nothing to laugh at: Second in Race 1 and third in Race 2 – the best finishes for his Dragon Racing team in IZOD IndyCar Series competition.

Now, the scene has shifted to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for this weekend’s Honda Indy 200, in which he finished fourth last season (his best showing in 2012). Yesterday, he was fourth-quickest in the series’ Open Test on the 2.26-mile road course.

Bourdais was hesitant to say that Toronto marked a true shift in momentum for his team, instead maintaining that they simply found improvements on the car that helped them get in the lead pack. He also noted the contributions of new engineer Tom Brown, who took over duties for Bourdais’ No. 7 Chevrolet in Canada.

“When Firestone changed the tires for 2013, it just threw us…Every set-up we had from 2012 was just not working anymore, and everyone’s had to step up their game,” said Bourdais. “We had to look where we were stuck, and we just could not find the gains we needed to get back the form we had at the end of last year.

“Tom definitely looked at that and he had a couple of different ideas from his previous years’ experience, and [it] just kind of started to creep in the right direction…We definitely have a direction now of where we need to put the car in order to be competitive, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

Qualifying well on Saturday will be critical for Bourdais and Dragon to keep building on their performances from two weeks ago. Mid-Ohio’s flowing, technical nature always makes it very difficult to nail down a ‘perfect lap’ there, and while Bourdais wouldn’t call it the toughest place on the IndyCar circuit to achieve one (he saved that distinction for the street courses, citing their relative bumpiness), he said that it was “one of the most exciting places” when everything does come together.

“It is a very, very committing exercise where you’ve got to hang it all out and get the balance just perfect, sometimes being on the ragged edge, [the car] being a little oversteer-y, and you definitely can’t leave everything behind,” he said. “You have to just hang it all out there, or you just don’t make the cut.”

Watch this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 from Mid-Ohio online and on your mobile device.

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.”