Indy 500 Notes: Bourdais earns best Indy finish; mixed fortunes for part-timers

0 Comments

Sebastien Bourdais completed a fruitful Month of May on Sunday, picking up his best-ever Indy 500 finish two weeks after collecting a Top-5 (fourth) in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Starting 17th, Bourdais (pictured, No. 11) stayed in mid-pack for much of the race’s long duration under green (the first 148 of 200 laps ran caution-free), but rose into the Top 10 on Lap 147 and eventually came home seventh.

“Not a great day, but a good day,” the four-time Champ Car title winner said. “We struggled a bit with the car the whole month, but we stuck with it and got the best out of it today.

“We didn’t start in the front so it was a challenge to get there. Overall, it was a strong performance, a good result and we got double points. Now we move on to Detroit [next weekend].”

Prior to Sunday, Bourdais’ best ‘500’ finish was 12th in his inaugural appearance in 2005.

Let’s take a look at how some of Sunday’s part-time and one-off drivers fared…

21-J.R. Hildebrand (Ed Carpenter Racing; started ninth, finished 10th)

Hildebrand, the 2011 ‘500’ Rookie of the Year, had an up-and-down Sunday. He was an early charger and hung around the Top 5 in the first half of the race, but a tire issue developed and forced him to pit, knocking him as far back as 22nd.

Undeterred, Hildebrand steadily came back and rose as high as sixth at Lap 141 before settling for 10th in the end.

“Any day that you are not sitting in victory lane and drinking the milk, it’s a disappointment,” he said. “For us…It’s frustrating because we had a really good car. We had an issue with a tire that got us out of the pit sequence. The car got bad with the tire issue. I had to pit or I was going to crash.

“But the car was fast. We passed a ton of guys today, including in the end. It was nice earlier when we jumped from ninth to third and I was running with Ed.”

16-Oriol Servia (Rahal Letterman Lanigan; started 18th, finished 11th)

Grip issues kept Servia from advancing further at the end, but the Spaniard was also bothered by what he saw as too much clutter on the track.

“We had a good race overall but I was really hoping that the track offi­cials would decide to sweep the marbles like they should,” the open-wheel veteran said.

“Because we had around three quar­ters of the race under green so there were a lot of marbles and pieces of debris out there and that’s why you couldn’t pass anybody, which is a shame because you can’t go side-by-side.

“I don’t know why they decided not to clean the track. It could have been a much better race.”

68-Alex Tagliani (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing; started 24th, finished 13th)

Tagliani battled a loose condition on his race car, a matter that couldn’t be solved quickly due to the long, caution-free portion of the race. But eventually, the team found a sweet spot with the balance and turned in good pit stops to make up some time.

As for his overall experience with SFHR, the Canadian came away impressed with the usually single-car outfit.

“Until you work with a team, you don’t know what it’s like,” he said. “Hopefully it’s a team that will become a two-car program, and I’ll be right there when that happens.

“It’s definitely a team with potential, and if one day they become a two-car team, with what they showed me this month, it’s definitely something I’d be interested in looking at.”

63-Pippa Mann (Dale Coyne Racing; started 22nd, finished 24th)

A mechanical problem that emerged after her second pit stop forced Mann to come in again and put her several laps off the pace. But while the race didn’t go that well for her, she was still able to accomplish an important goal on Sunday.

“I’m really pleased we were able to go out there and exceed our 400 lap target for the month, to raise funds and awareness for Susan G. Komen in the fight against breast cancer,” she said. “It’s been an honor to carry the Susan G. Komen Running Ribbon this month.”

91-Buddy Lazier (Lazier Partners Racing; started 33rd, finished 32nd)

The 1996 Indy winner was the second driver to bow out on Sunday at Lap 87, with the team confirming on social media that it was due to a clutch failure.

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

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
0 Comments

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.”