Indy Lights notes: Juncos leads oval test, Chilton digs ovals, Piedrahita confirmed

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There have been several Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires bits of news over the last week. Here were the recaps of road course testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway (day one, day two), but oval testing followed on Thursday.

JUNCOS LEADS OVAL TESTING

Juncos Racing led a tightly packed timesheets in the Indy Lights’ first official oval test day on the HMS 1.5-mile oval, converted to its normal layout rather than the road course. Nine tenths of a second covered the 11-car field, even as the teams experimented with different setups.

Kyle Kaiser and Spencer Pigot – Juncos’ pair of rookies – led the combined lap times with Kaiser posting a best lap of 188.851 mph.

“The team continues to demonstrate their ability to adapt to this new car,” Kaiser said. “It’s still early and there is a lot of work ahead, but we are making steady progress. It was my first time driving on an oval at this speed and the team gave me the perfect car to make the transition seamless. I’m looking forward to NOLA in a few weeks to continue our development.”

Times are linked here.

CHILTON, CARLIN WELCOMED – AND THEY DIG OVALS

Max Chilton’s presence at the test this week was something of a big deal. The former Marussia F1 driver is a relative big fish in a small pond in the Lights field, and with he and Carlin Racing present, it adds two further degrees of legitimacy to the championship.

Chilton spoke highly of the experience and posted a couple tweets from his opening oval experience.

Team boss Trevor Carlin praised the American culture after a successful first week of testing for both Chilton and the team’s first confirmed driver, Ed Jones.

SCHMIDT PRAISES ANDERSON AFTER HIS FIRST SPM TEST

Scott Anderson missed the Palm Beach test while news of his deal with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was yet to be confirmed. But Homestead marked his first week on board, and his presence solidified SPM’s effort for 2015.

“Testing is even more productive now that to our Indy Lights team is solidified,” SPM co-owner Sam Schmidt said. “Scott Anderson completing our driver lineup is helpful because he can contribute and adds another voice to the equation. We’ve put the pieces of the puzzle in place, which now allows us to focus on racing.”

PIEDRAHITA OFFICIALLY CONFIRMED

Belardi Auto Racing confirmed Juan Piedrahita last week as second driver alongside Felix Serralles. The Colombian raced with SPM in 2014, and also has past experience on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder in both Pro Mazda and USF2000.

“I’m very grateful that Brian Belardi has given me this opportunity, and it looks like I have some big shoes to fill, those of my friend, Gabby Chaves,” Piedrahita said. “In regards to the new Dallara, I can’t wait to drive it. The new car is very similar to the DW12 and it will help us in preparation for the next step.”

Piedrahita tested on both the road course and oval last week, although 2012 Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier filled in for a day on the second day on the road course to help evaluate the team’s progress. While Piedrahita is a veteran, Serralles will be a rookie in 2015.

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.”