Title drama occurs in penultimate Porsche Supercup race at Austin

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AUSTIN – Nicki Thiim (Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup) and Mark McKenzie (Ferrari Challenge) have taken the victories in the first of each of their two races during the United States Grand Prix weekend at Circuit of the Americas.

But the story was behind Thiim in the Porsche race, as last-lap contact between the two Porsche Supercup title contenders – Kuba Giermaziak and Earl Bamber – will have serious championship implications.

Giermaziak had fallen from second down to fourth during the race. When attempting to defend against Bamber on exit to Turn 11, Giermaziak was to the outside with Bamber on the inside. The two made it about halfway down the straight before Giermaziak’s car was turned around into the outside retaining wall.

Bamber made it home in fourth, while Giermaziak slipped to 11th. Photos below from Will Santiago in the stands, who did a great job to capture the drama as it happened.

The Pole had been poised to close what had been a five-point deficit to the New Zealander (123-118) heading into the race. But unofficial projections now have Bamber 14 points up (137-123) after the contact.

Such a gap can be overcome if Giermaziak was to win (20 points) and have Bamber end 10th or worse (6 points). Giermaziak has three wins to Bamber’s two this year, so would have the tiebreaker.

The task for Giermaziak is made all the more difficult because Bamber has the pole for Sunday’s second race, courtesy of a 2:08.508 set in the morning qualifying session, the top second fastest lap in the field. Ammermuller and Thiim start second and third; Giermaziak starts fifth.

Thiim’s win in the 14-lap Supercup race was a flag-to-flag drive from pole position, and good for his second win this season (Hockenheim in Germany). Michael Ammermuller was second with Klaus Bachler third, the latter up from sixth on the grid.

Bamber was fourth with Phillip Eng rounding out the top five.

Americans struggled in the race with Sean Johnston best of the lot in 12th, one spot behind Giermaziak. Madison Snow suffered a spin at Turn 11 and wound up 26th; IMSA Porsche GT3 USA champ Colin Thompson suffered either a brake failure or stuck throttle as he lost control of his car on the run to Turn 12, and ran straight into Pepe Massot at the corner. Heavy damage took both cars out of the race.

The Ferrari Challenge race saw McKenzie pass polesitter Ricardo Perez on Lap 6 and hold the lead for the remainder of the race through to the checkered on Lap 10. Gregory Romanelli was third and Scott Tucker, making his first overall race start of any kind since this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona in January, finished fourth.

In the CS class, James Weiland won from Robert Herjavec and Ross Garber. Garber, an Austin local, set the fastest lap in his class and was also a supporter of NBCSN’s Will Buxton’s Big Time Bash Thursday night. The trio finished seventh through ninth overall.

Second races for both series are Sunday morning, at 10:15 to 10:45 a.m. (Ferrari Challenge) and 11:15 to 11:50 (Porsche Supercup) local time, respectively.

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.”