Abu Dhabi GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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ABU DHABI – If Lewis Hamilton happens to have a blueprint for how this weekend should go, he is sticking to it so far. Having lost out to teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg in every session at the Brazilian Grand Prix, the Briton hit back in Abu Dhabi today by finishing fastest in both FP1 and FP2.

The margins may have been small, but they were significant. Practice may not matter in the grand scheme of things, but it does usually set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Had Rosberg finished quickest in both sessions, he would be leaving Yas Marina tonight with his eyes on a race win – after all, that is his end of the bargain for winning this championship.

Instead, he is instead left thinking about how he can overhaul Hamilton, who said that the Mercedes car was “the best I’ve ever driven here, without doubt.” He is looking comfortable for the time being, but there is still plenty of running time left in this championship drama.

Rounding up all of the news and action from the paddock today, here’s the notebook.

SESSION REPORTS

PADDOCK NEWS

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Yesterday, I penned a feature on the weight of expectation and pressure that is being placed on Lewis Hamilton’s shoulders in Abu Dhabi this weekend. If Nico Rosberg wanted to get his teammate and championship rival under the thumb from the word go, starting in practice was important. A perfect weekend like the one we saw in Brazil would put the ball in Lewis’ court with regards to the championship.

Today though, Lewis was effortlessly cool as he rallied to top spot in both of the practice sessions, leading Rosberg by a tiny margin at the top of the timesheets. A net ‘win’ – that is, adding his lead in FP1 and FP2 together – of 0.216 seconds may not seem like much, but it is enough. After all, he only has to finish second on Sunday.

Rosberg’s big hope in Abu Dhabi was that the likes of Williams, Red Bull or Ferrari could cut the gap to Mercedes and get in the mix. Thanks to the double points rule, if he wins the race on Sunday and Lewis finishes third, he will be crowned champion. Only on Thursday, the German said the following:

“It can happen as easy as a Williams, for example, having a great start and slotting in between us two. The track is one of the most difficult to voertake. We were looking at that this morning. The speed difference you need to overtake the guy in front is really very big at this track and so that will be one opportunity for example.

“But there’s so many scenarios, so, as I say, I’m optimistic.”

Any optimism Nico may have had on Thursday of such a scenario coming to fruition must now be shattered in pieces on the floor. In FP1, Mercedes finished 1.7 seconds clear of the field – in Formula 1, that is a lifetime. FP2 was a little closer, with third placed Kevin Magnussen falling seven-tenths of a second shy of the Silver Arrows.

Still, it’s difficult to see anyone realistically splitting the Mercedes drivers unless something out of the ordinary does happen. Rosberg’s title hopes may well be pinned on Hamilton suffering from yet more misfortune – it’s almost like Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner.

All Nico can do for himself this weekend is win the race. However, analyzing the practice times, even that seems to be a bit of a stretch. Throughout the long runs in FP2 once the sun had fallen, Hamilton was quicker. Rosberg yo-yoed between times in the high 1:47s and low 1:48s; Hamilton, on the other hand, was consistently lapping in the mid 1:47s. His driving style is less demanding on the rear tires and he also uses less fuel – is this checkmate?

Of course it isn’t. Practice, in the grand scheme of things, means nothing. In reality, qualifying doesn’t either. This championship will only be decided on Sunday. However, for the time being, round one has gone to Lewis.

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That’s all from Yas Marina today, but be sure to join us for FP3 live on Live Extra and online at 5a ET tomorrow. This will be followed by qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET.

Regardless if follow Formula 1 religiously, or are just a general sports fan, this is an event you do not want to miss.

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.”