TUSC: Rolex 24 P class preview

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The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship premieres this weekend with the Rolex 24 at Daytona. We’ll have sporadic posts and updates for the season opener of the unified series, which brings together the GRAND-AM Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series.

First up in our list of class previews, the P class.

P CLASS

WHAT IT IS: The headlining class. No driver ranking limitations. Open chassis and engine combinations, spec Continental Tires. This combines the P2 cars from ALMS, the Daytona Prototypes from GRAND-AM and the DeltaWing, which ran in ALMS but isn’t homologated to any set of technical regulations as a developmental prototype.

WHO THEY ARE: 18 cars strong. It includes 11 DPs, 6 P2s, and the DeltaWing. The field includes a number of sports car veterans and some IndyCar and NASCAR interlopers.

A QUICK BREAKDOWN: The 11 DPs include two cars apiece from Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (No. 01/02 Ford EcoBoost Rileys), Action Express Racing (No. 5/9 Corvette DPs), and one car apiece from Wayne Taylor Racing (No. 10 Corvette DP), Marsh Racing (No. 31 Corvette DP), Highway to Help (No. 50 Dinan Riley), Michael Shank Racing (No. 60 Ford EcoBoost Riley), Starworks Motorsport (No. 78 Dinan Riley), Spirit of Daytona (No. 90 Corvette DP) and GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing (No. 99 Corvette DP).

Ganassi has won five of the last eight overall Rolex 24s, and a win for Scott Pruett in the No. 01 would be a record sixth overall title. But the team had engine problems at the Roar Before the Rolex 24, and left a day early. Shank (2012), Action Express (2010) and Taylor (2005) also have prior overall wins in the above batch. It feels like a year where a first-timer could break through, and all of the above bar the Marsh (P class debut) and Highway to Help (four gentlemen drivers) could pull it off.

The P2s are two two-car operations, Extreme Speed Motorsports (No. 1/2 HPD ARX-03b) and SpeedSource (No. 70/07 Mazda SKYACTIV-D Coupe) with Muscle Milk Pickett Racing (No. 6 ORECA 03 Nissan) and OAK Racing (No. 42 Morgan Nissan) completing the six open-top P class cars in the field. Reliability may be an issue; pace certainly will for the Mazdas, which are brand new and simply hoping to finish; and the other three teams don’t have the same level of Daytona experience as the DPs. I think a P2 car could score an overall podium – perhaps Muscle Milk – but I doubt one will win overall.

The DeltaWing is a beast unto itself, and in a decently good position compared to its at-times fragmented 2013. There’s a solid driver lineup that includes Caterham F1 reserve Alexander Rossi, Indy Lights runner-up Gabby Chaves and 2013 drivers Andy Meyrick and Katherine Legge. Reliability will be the issue, as the team’s Élan powerplant hasn’t lasted anywhere close to a 24-hour race distance. But the pace was very good from testing. Finishing is goal one, and if it’s still running, it could sneak a surprise result with the DWC13 coupe.

WHO TO WATCH: As outlined above, it’s hard to go against a DP, which have the edge on P2 cars in terms of overall lap time and outright speed on the ovals. And of the DPs, the Corvettes have the reliability compared to the premiering Fords and privateer Dinans. But realistically there’s about 10-12 of the 18 cars entered in class that should be battling for the podium at the end of 24 hours.

The drivers of note? Sports car veterans such as Pruett, Ryan Dalziel, Joao Barbosa, the Klaus Graf/Lucas Luhr pairing, the Taylor brothers, and the trio in the Spirit of Daytona Corvette. IndyCar’s Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Simon Pagenaud, Justin Wilson, and James Hinchcliffe. NASCAR’s Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger.

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.”