Alonso fastest in first practice for Australian GP

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Fernando Alonso has started the 2014 Formula 1 season in the best possible fashion by finishing fastest during the first practice session for the Australian Grand Prix today.

The Spanish driver managed to see off the challenge of McLaren’s Jenson Button and both Williams drivers to finish on top of the timesheets as Mercedes and Red Bull both encountered problems during the opening session of the season.

Formula 1’s new era got underway in typically sunny conditions in Australia with Alonso being the first driver out on track. He was joined by a number of other drivers for an installation lap, but some had to bide their time, including Sebastian Vettel as Red Bull worked on his car.

However, the session was soon interrupted when Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes came to a halt on track after just five minutes, appearing to confirm the reliability concerns that had been raised throughout the winter. The W05 was craned away a few minutes later, allowing the session to continue after a yellow flag period. The team later confirmed that a sensor shut down the car, and it was not a problem with the power unit.

Despite Red Bull’s problems, Daniel Ricciardo was the first driver to post a lap time, setting an early benchmark of 1:37.290, and he was soon followed by McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen who was around half a second off with his first lap. A number of other drivers came out and posted a lap time inside the first 30 minutes of the session, with Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg trading fastest lap times. As the drivers sought the limit of their cars, a number of mistakes were made. Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat both had sideways moments, whilst Sergio Perez very nearly spun his Force India at turn three.

Thanks to the new rules in 2014, all drivers have an extra set of tires to use in the first half an hour of the session, meaning that there was a great amount of on-track action to kick-start the new era of Formula 1. However, at the end of this period, there was a lull on track as teams took a second to regroup and prepare for the final hour of the session.

Jenson Button and Esteban Gutierrez both looked to set some fast laps at the halfway point during the session, and the British driver managed to move to the top of the timesheets with a lap of 1:32.357. After a disastrous 2013 season, McLaren began 2014 in good fashion with Button leading the way. However, Caterham’s year got off to a bad start as both Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson were forced to sit out due to problems with the CT-05 car.

With 40 minutes to go, defending world champion Sebastian Vettel finally got out on track for the first time after a lengthy rebuild by the Red Bull team. However, he only completed an installation lap before returning to the pits. At Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso, Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat kicked up some grass after running wide, but he was able to continue. Teammate Jean-Eric Vergne also made a mistake at turn one, lamenting his lack of experience with the new brake-by-wire system over the radio.

Felipe Massa, running in his first official session for Williams, soon began to show his pace by popping up into second place with around 30 minutes remaining. Former teammate Fernando Alonso soon returned to the top of the timesheets though, wrestling P1 away from Button by going half a second quicker than the McLaren. Marussia’s Max Chilton managed to come out and post a lap time in the final half an hour of the session, although he did hit a trolley in his pit box on entry.

Towards the end of the session, the drivers began to focus on their long runs with heavy fuel, meaning that the times remained relatively unchanged. Lotus managed to send its drivers out during the final ten minutes of the session, but Pastor Maldonado suffered a problem with his car that saw him take a trip through the gravel before returning to the pits without any power.

Come the end of the session, none of the drivers could better Alonso’s time, giving Ferrari a great start to the season as its rivals faltered. However, with this being just the first session of the year, it remains to be seen who will be the man to beat come race-day.

Free Practice 2 begins at 1:30am ET and is live on NBCSN and Live Extra.

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.”