PWC: 2015 driver/team rundown, GT, GTA, GT Cup

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While yesterday we did a general primer of the Pirelli World Challenge classes, today we’ll look more in depth at the drivers competing in the championship.

Here’s a breakdown by team:

GT/GTA

  • Cadillac Racing: Johnny O’Connell (No. 3) and Andy Pilgrim (No. 8) will share the two new Cadillac ATS-V.Rs. It remains to be seen how Cadillac’s new car handles; O’Connell is the three-time defending series champion and Pilgrim seeks a return to winning after a rare winless campaign a year ago.
  • CRP Racing: Mike Skeen (No. 2) was a multiple race winner a year ago and series runner-up. Likely the best bet among the Audi R8 LMS ultra drivers.
  • K-PAX Racing with Flying Lizard Motorsports: Kevin Estre (No. 9) is a McLaren factory standout shifting into PWC; Robert Thorne (No. 6) actually won the season finale at Miller last year. K-PAX might have new cars in the pair of McLaren 650S GT3s, but their potential and the race-winning caliber of operation assembled by Flying Lizard Motorsports should see this team as a viable title contender.
  • GMG Racing: Just two years ago James Sofronas (No. 14) almost won the title. It’s a deeper field this year but either he or Madison Snow (No. 21) are top-six contenders in their Audi R8 LMS ultras. Alex Welch (No. 76) and Brent Holden (No. 44) will run partial GTA seasons.
  • Bentley Team Dyson Racing: For first time since 2011 ALMS title, Dyson enters a year with realistic title hopes. Expect either or both of Chris Dyson (No. 16) and Butch Leitzinger (No. 20) as a race winner, depending on the circuit, with the Bentley Continental GT3s a formidable and more developed threat.
  • Blancpain Racing: Nick Catsburg (No. 25) should surprise throughout the year in the Lamborghini Gallardo FL2; GTA drivers Maximilian Voelker (No. 37) and Marcelo Hahn (No. 0) in fellow Lamborghinis are possible class race winners.
  • M1 Racing: Guy Cosmo (No. 23) a late COTA entry in an Audi R8 LMS ultra may not have the car of others in class, but certainly capable enough to surprise in the races he’s able to compete in.
  • LG Motorsports: PWC veteran Lou Gigliotti (No. 28) returns in an Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 but at least initially, is unlikely to return to his winning ways after a brief series hiatus.
  • EFFORT Racing: Here’s two title contenders in the pair of Porsche 911 GT3 Rs, with Ryan Dalziel (No. 31) in GT and Michael Lewis (No. 41) in GTA. Lewis might need to play his cards closer to the vest, as if he finishes too high he could get bumped up to GT. Dalziel might have a weekend conflict or two but is a past race winner a year ago, and a likely one once again this year.
  • AE/Replay XD/Nissan GT Academy: Two good drivers in James Davison (No. 33, GT) and Bryan Heitkotter (No. 05, GTA), a good team in AIM Autosport, good engineering from JRM and good partners in Always Evolving and Replay X D. The question, oddly, is the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 car – quick internationally, but how will it translate to the U.S.?
  • RealTime Racing: Seven-time champion Peter Cunningham (No. 42) and fan favorite Ryan Eversley (No. 43) will be in the pair of Acura TLX-GTs. It’s a developmental car, but figures to improve as the year progresses.
  • R. Ferri Motorsport: Simply put, Olivier Beretta (No. 61) in a Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 with a team of Remo Ferri’s caliber is a title contender. The question isn’t if they’ll win races, but where and when.
  • Scuderia Corsa: Besides boasting the best sideburns in racing, Duncan Ende (No. 64) is in a place where he can shine and score some podiums. Teammates Mike Hedlund (No. 65) and Martin Fuentes (No. 07) add greater depth to the Giacomo Mattioli-led team, which runs Ferrari 458 Italia GT3s.
  • De La Torre Racing LLC: GTS rookie-of-the-year a year ago, Jorge De La Torre (No. 4) might struggle initially in GTA in his family-run team with an Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3.
  • TRG-AMR North America: Kevin Buckler’s team is usually a contender and Christina Nielsen (No. 7) is a possible GTA race winner in her Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3. Austin local Mark McKenzie (No. 09) joins for at least the season opener.
  • DragonSpeed: Three possible GTA champs here in Elton Julian’s trio of Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3s. Henrik Hedman (No. 10), Eric Lux (No. 08) and Frankie Montecalvo (No. 66) have race-winning potential and plenty of experience.
  • Stephen Cameron Racing: Drew Regitz (No. 19) a sneaky candidate for GTA success in an Audi R8 LMS ultra after moving up from GTS.
  • NGT Motorsport: Expect Henrique Cisneros (No. 30) to figure into some GTA podiums and/or wins in a MOMO-backed Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.
  • Turner Motorsport: Will Turner’s team has a pair of good BMW Z4 GT3s, but it remains to be seen whether Bret Curtis (No. 32) or Bill Ziegler (No. 95) will maximize the car potential in GTA.
  • Black Swan Racing: Armed with series, team and car experience, Tim Pappas (No. 54) is a definite race-winning contender in GTA, and a likely title contender in his Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3.
  • Risi Competizione: At least at COTA, Ricardo Perez (No. 62) is a GTA podium contender in his Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.
  • Lone Star Racing: In the lone Dodge Viper GT3-R in the field, Dan Knox (No. 80) is the lone ranger in the Lone Star entry. The GTA field is deeper this year than last.
  • Autometrics Motorsports: Team and driver Joseph Toussaint (No. 90) are unknown quantities, but do add another Porsche 911 GT3 R to the field in GTA.
  • JCR Motorsports: Series veteran Jeff Courtney (No. 99) likely will be consistent if not the outright pacesetter in GTA in his Audi R8 LMS ultra.

GT Cup

It’s a new class and realistically, hard to predict who will win the one-make, 991-spec Porsche 911 GT3 Cup class without a couple races that are completed. The COTA field includes Colin Thompson (No. 11), Lorenzo Trefethen (No. 13), Alec Udell (No. 17), Phil Fogg Jr. (No. 18), Eduardo Cisneros (No. 29), Santiago Creel (No. 60), Preston Calvert (No. 77), Victor Gomez (No. 81), Mitch Landry (No. 97) and Sloan Urry (No. 02).

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.”