Hamilton kicks off F1 title defence in style with controlled Australian GP victory

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Lewis Hamilton kicked off his Formula 1 world championship defence in style at the Australian Grand Prix today by claiming a dominant victory ahead of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

The British driver led for all but one lap in Melbourne to clinch his second win at Albert Park, following on from his victory at the 2008 race.

MORE: Watch a full replay of the race

As expected, Mercedes dominated proceedings and eased to a one-two finish, but the main talking point on Sunday was the high rate of attrition as just 11 cars reached the flag.

Before the race had got underway, the grid fell from 18 to just 15 starters after Valtteri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat were all unable to make the grid. Bottas failed to start from P6 due to a back injury, whilst both Magnussen and Kvyat suffered technical problems on their installation laps, giving the 2015 season something of a false start.

Off the line, both of the Mercedes drivers made a good getaway to remain P1 and P2 through the first corner, with Hamilton retaining the lead from Rosberg. Just behind, the two Ferrari drivers tangled, but Vettel managed to stay ahead of the struggling Raikkonen who narrowly avoided an incident between Felipe Nasr and Pastor Maldonado. Contact between the two drivers left Maldonado in the wall, warranting a safety car after just one lap in Melbourne.

In the sister Lotus, Romain Grosjean was forced to retire due to a loss of power, leaving just 13 cars in the field once the race resumed on lap three. Hamilton perfected his restart to drop Rosberg by 2.5 seconds after just one lap, whilst Raikkonen tried to make up for his poor start by battling with Ricciardo and Nasr in the positions ahead. The Finn was eventually forced to pit on lap 16 in a bid to get out of Ricciardo’s dirty air, switching to a two-stop strategy.

Five laps later, the first of the one-stoppers took their pit stops, with Massa diving in from third place to take on a fresh set of medium tires for Williams. The Brazilian emerged from the pits in sixth place behind Daniel Ricciardo, but was soon in clean air after the Red Bull driver pitted. However, it proved to be too little, too late for Massa as Vettel moved up into net third place by going longer three laps longer.

As the race approached half-distance, the leading Mercedes duo took to the pits with Hamilton coming in one lap earlier than Rosberg. Enjoying similar stop times, the Briton retained his lead, leaving Rosberg some five seconds behind and with a mountain to climb if he was going to deny his teammate the win at Albert Park.

In the fight to be top rookie, Max Verstappen made his first pit stop in F1 on lap 33 after starting on the medium tire. The Dutch youngster managed to emerge from the pits in ninth place on a fresh set of soft tires, but all hopes of points went up in smoke when an engine fire forced him to retire from the race just one lap later.

Rosberg began to make inroads into his teammate’s lead after pitting, reducing the gap to just 1.5 seconds before Hamilton took notice. The Briton duly responded with the fastest lap of the race, extending the gap once again as Rosberg complained of high tire degradation.

Kimi Raikkonen was having no such problems on his two-stop strategy, retaining fifth place after making his final pit stop on lap 42. However, an issue with the left-rear tire on his car in the pits forced the Finn to pull over at the side of the track just four corners later, whittling the field down to just 11 with 15 laps to go.

With the sparse field largely spaced out in the final ten laps, the most interesting battle between Marcus Ericsson and Carlos Sainz Jr. for eighth place. Both drivers put in impressive displays to score points, but it was Ericsson who managed to fight past and up into the position.

Hamilton and Rosberg continued to trade quicker lap times at the front in the dying stages of the race, but the German simply could not find the pace to reel his teammate in. After 58 laps, Hamilton crossed the line with an advantage of 1.3 seconds to clinch his second Australian Grand Prix victory.

On debut for Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel managed to stay ahead of Massa after leapfrogging the Williams driver in the pit stops to secure third place ahead of the Brazilian. With less than five seconds separating the two drivers at the line though, the stage is set for a thrilling season-long battle between these two teams.

One of the stand-out performances in Australia came courtesy of Sauber rookie Felipe Nasr, who put the uncertainty of the winter behind him to finish fifth on debut for the team. With Ericsson finishing eighth, Sauber celebrated a 14-point haul to start 2015 after failing to record a single top-ten finish last year.

Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez put in a quietly impressive display for Force India to finish seventh and 11th on Sunday, with Carlos Sainz Jr. also enjoyed a good F1 debut in P9.

With 11 cars finishing the race, the only driver not to score points was McLaren’s Jenson Button, who finished two laps down on the leaders and some 38 seconds behind the rest of the field.

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.”