Bianchi suffers severe head injuries at Suzuka, requiring surgery

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UPDATE 1810 ET: Contrary to reports circulating, Ferrari has denied that Jules Bianchi is out of surgery and breathing independently following his accident during today’s Japanese Grand Prix that left him with severe head injuries.

In wet conditions at Suzuka, Sauber’s Adrian Sutil spun off with a few laps remaining, prompting a recovery vehicle to come and try to remove the car.

Bianchi (pictured taking part in practice on Friday at Suzuka) spun off at the crash site, hitting the vehicle that was being used to recover Sutil’s car. He did not respond to a radio call from Marussia at the time.

The Frenchman was transported via ambulance while unconscious to the Mie General Hospital where he underwent surgery for a severe head injury, according to the FIA statement at 0720 ET.

[RELATED: Race result secondary to Bianchi’s status, Vettel says]

“The CT scan shows he has suffered a severe head injury and is undergoing surgery,” it read. “Folowing this, he will be moved to intensive care where he will be monitored. Mie General Hospital will issue an update as soon as further information becomes available.”

It had been reported by a number of outlets including the BBC and Sky that Bianchi was out of surgery at the hospital and was breathing independently. However, Ferrari, his parent team, has denied that this is the case, and has given no further updates on his condition.

The next official word is expected to come from the hospital on Monday, with Bianchi moving into intensive care following surgery where he will be monitored further.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, FIA media delegate Matteo Bonciani confirmed that Bianchi had been transported to the hospital by ambulance and was unconscious at the time.

“The driver is unconscious. He has been sent to hospital by ambulance because the helicopter cannot go in these conditions. Further updates will follow. For the moment, we cannot say nothing. I will keep you updated as fast as I can.”

Adrian Sutil, who was at the site of the accident, explained his view of the incident to the media following the race.

“The yellow flags were out,” he said. “I aquaplaned on this corner as the rain got more and more, the stability got less and less.

“One lap later, with waved yellow flags, Jules came around and had the same spin there, and that was it. It was more or less the same crash, it’s just the outcome was a bit different. The car came out to rescue my car and then it all happened.”

The Japanese Grand Prix was affected by torrential rain due to the inbound Typhoon Phanfone, which is set to hit the country tomorrow.

After two laps behind the safety car at the start of the race, FIA race control brought out the red flag to suspend all running due to the wet weather.

[RELATED: Hamilton wins shortened Japan Grand Prix]

However, just ten minutes later, the decision was taken to restart behind the safety car as conditions improved, and it soon became dry enough for drivers to race on intermediate tires.

In the final few stages of the race, more rain began to fall, causing on-track grip to deteriorate and prompting many to make the switch to full wet tires once again.

Following the accident at turn eight, the race was red flagged for a second time, with the result being declared soon after. Lewis Hamilton extended his championship lead with his third straight victory ahead of Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel. However, celebrations on the podium were muted as news of Bianchi’s accident spread.

We will bring you all of the updates on Bianchi’s condition as the information reaches us.

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.”