MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Abu Dhabi GP

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ABU DHABI – After 18 races and some frenetic battles at the front of the field, the 2014 Formula 1 championship will finally be decided in Abu Dhabi this weekend. Just as it has been all season long, it will be Lewis Hamilton versus Nico Rosberg at the front of the field, only this time, it is the final battle for the world championship.

Hamilton enters the final race of the year with the upper hand, leading Rosberg by 17 points. However, with double points on offer for the final race of the year, there is still plenty to play for.

As things stand, Hamilton only needs a top two finish to be sure of the title, with Rosberg seemingly pinning his hopes on trouble striking his teammate’s Mercedes. However, after two more troublesome title tilts in 2007 and 2008, Hamilton will know to take nothing for granted.

This weekend’s race sees a number of ‘lasts’ take place: Sebastian Vettel’s last race for Red Bull; Renault’s last race powering Lotus; Mercedes’ last race powering McLaren; Kvyat’s last race for Toro Rosso; Gutierrez and Sutil’s last race for Sauber – and probably the last time we will see Fernando Alonso driving a Ferrari, and perhaps even the last time Jenson Button will be racing in F1.

This is also the last set of MST predictions for this season – so be sure to check out what our writers think will happen under the lights in Abu Dhabi.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. This race should see Nico pick up the maximum score of 50 points and put the pressure on Hamilton for the title. Lewis doesn’t have to win in Abu Dhabi – he just has to finish second. My reckoning is that Nico will cross the line first, but with his teammate in hot pursuit just behind him.

Surprising finish: Caterham. Surprising in the sense that the team will actually race in Abu Dhabi. It’s a turn of events that very few could have seen coming, but alas, the team will line up on the grid on Sunday.

Most to prove: Lewis Hamilton. A controversial choice? Perhaps. After losing out in 2007 and 2010, Hamilton has his best chance yet of winning the championship heading into the final race of the year. It’s time for him to make it count and become a two-time world champion.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. This is one of Hamilton’s best tracks, and armed with the best car in the field, I think Lewis makes it an emphatic 11th win of the season and confirms his second World Championship, first with Mercedes.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn spoke of a better balance with the front end of his Ferrari in Brazil, and will be poised to be closer to his 2012 form than a year ago, when he retired from the race in what was ultimately his final start for Lotus.

Most to prove: Kevin Magnussen. McLaren is deciding its driver lineup post-Dec. 1. Even if Magnussen is retained into 2015, the youngster has been outshone of late by Jenson Button, who could well be headed for the exits. There’s many drivers uncertain of their 2015 plans and K-Mag could use a run to book-end the season that was as dynamic and outstanding as his Melbourne podium debut.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Nico Rosberg put in a superb effort to beat back Hamilton in Brazil, but it’s still the Briton’s World Championship to lose in Abu Dhabi. After everything Hamilton has done this season, he can’t cough up the title now.

Surprising finish: Romain Grosjean. Lotus believes that their E22 will be a better match for the Yas Marina Circuit, and with their Frenchman talking of upgrades and more power this week, I figure he’ll be keen to take advantage of that.

Most to prove: Nico Rosberg. With double points on offer for this final battle, he still has a chance to snatch the title away from Hamilton. But he can’t worry about him. All he can – and must – focus on is winning this race.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. After an absolutely dominant season, there is no way Hamilton is letting the championship slip through his fingers in the season finale at Abu Dhabi. Admittedly, he has struggled in the last two races at Abu Dhabi after winning there in 2011, but with the championship on the line, Lewis is the man to get it done.

Surprising finish: Sebastian Vettel. Having won three of the first five Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, including last season, Vettel would likely love to finish off the season on a high note. That’s particularly significant since Vettel has not won a race this season. If anyone is to beat Hamilton, which we still feel unlikely, it’ll be Vettel.

Most to prove: Nico Rosberg. While he still has a shot at the championship, and has a strong past record at Abu Dhabi, Rosberg will come up short in Sunday’s season-ending race. Still, Rosberg has nothing to hang his head about. He’s enjoyed his best F1 season to date and presented a formidable challenge to his teammate. We foresee even bigger and better things ahead for Nico.

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.”