IndyCar: Pagenaud adjusting nicely to changes for 2015 season


His hometown has changed. His team has changed. His car and manufacturer have changed.

Just as importantly, so has his hair and business attire at the track.

About the only thing that hasn’t changed for Simon Pagenaud in 2015 is his talent level, and the Frenchman’s ability to develop new machinery and then wring the neck out of it should be one of the most fascinating storylines to watch in the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Pagenaud’s move from Honda-powered Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to Chevrolet-powered Team Penske was one that was as earth shattering as could possibly occur in modern day IndyCar.

The rich got richer as Penske expanded to a fourth IndyCar for the first time, but for Pagenaud, it was an opportunity he had to take.

It is a chance that is a case of both driver and team “future-proofing” themselves. Pagenaud has the stability of a team with Penske’s accolades, history and reputation, and Penske has, along with defending series champion Will Power, two drivers for the next five or six years, provided Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginning.

Along with the move came the other elements that make a driver Penske material: the all-black attire, the shorter hair, and a move from Indianapolis to Charlotte.

It was that, he said, that is one of the bigger adjustments he’ll make in 2015 even more than the team or car change.

“It’s been good. It’s actually been easy,” Pagenaud told MotorSportsTalk. “I had so much time. It was a good thing to have so much time (this offseason) to adjust.

“The move was a big thing. I had been in Indy for nine years. My American roots were built there. My business was there, so I had to move all that, and adjust with the moving. It’s the one thing you don’t see outwardly, is the business growth.”

But immediately, Pagenaud said he already loves his new city.

“Life is great in Charlotte,” he said. “There’s a great racing community there and great weather for training.

“It’s awesome to be close to Team Penske. With such a change, it was important to be there for the professional side. You have to study and know what it will be like to be at the first race.”

Pagenaud has brought his longtime engineer Ben Bretzman with him, and the pair should be a potent threat together out of the box in the No. 22 Verizon Chevrolet.

The innate knowledge the two have with each other should ease the transition process for both of them.

“We don’t have much testing, so the need is there to understand technically where they are at,” Pagenaud explained. “To bring Ben Bretzman with me, now the duo is back together. Team Penske hired him, and that makes things easier.

“The first move to Penske is huge. Having the resources, and everything behind that, we have only one option: to do well. Having the new engine and new aero kit is very cool for me.”

Pagenaud’s sports car experience – he is renowned for his development work with a series of different HPD/Acura prototypes over a five-year period from 2008 through 2012, and was also part of Peugeot’s factory lineup – should pay dividends as aero kits come to IndyCar this year.

He was part of the test lineup for Chevrolet’s model at Circuit of the Americas over the winter, but hasn’t tested the new kit since. He did well with Bretzman in the 2014 aero-spec package at NOLA Motorsports Park last week.

“There’s been a lot of development since then even,” Pagenaud said. “The engineers have been working days and nights, but as hard as they’ve worked they must have improved a lot. It’s quite a tremendous piece of equipment.

“I’m more excited for myself as a driver! It will have more grip, downforce, and be faster. We should be quite a bit faster.”

Pagenaud will have already had two races under his belt by the time the IndyCar season opens in St. Petersburg on March 29.

He’s been added as a third driver to the No. 4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Pagenaud finished third at Daytona and looks to end a string of runner-up results at Sebring next month.

“It’s quite an adjustment actually,” he said of moving from a prototype to a GTLM car. “The biggest thing is the movement of the car. It moves a lot more under braking, but the C7.R is an incredible car. It surprises me how much you can attack and push it. I’m having so much fun driving it.”

More change, and yet more success, should be the expectation for Pagenaud the rest of 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

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.”