Mazda Road to Indy: Driver-by-driver preview in Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000

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The Mazda Road to Indy, now all under the Andersen Promotions umbrella for the second season, is overflowing with young talent in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

While last year we looked at 10 drivers to watch – with more hits than misses – we look deeper in all series this year and give brief primers on each driver:

INDY LIGHTS

  • Spencer Pigot (No. 12 Juncos Racing): The Pro Mazda champion moves up to Indy Lights. He’s spent two years in each of USF2000 and Pro Mazda, and the Rising Star Racing-backed American driver hopes he’ll only have one season in Lights by comparison.
  • Kyle Kaiser (No. 18 Juncos Racing): Ended his 2014 Pro Mazda season with a win at Sonoma. Perhaps not an outright title contender, but should bank a few podiums and potentially score his first series win.
  • Ed Jones (No. 11 Carlin): Dubai-based driver is something of an unknown to the U.S. audience, but wouldn’t be in his position if Trevor Carlin’s team didn’t think highly of him.
  • Max Chilton (No. 14 Carlin): The ex-Marussia F1 driver looks set to be on a race-to-race plan for Carlin and as a relative bigger fish in a small pond instead of the opposite in F1, should be on pace from the off.
  • Scott Hargrove (No. 8 8Star Motorsports): The talented Canadian came up only just short of last year’s Pro Mazda title, but has two other titles banked (USF2000, Porsche GT3 Canada). Nice as they come outside the car, but an assassin in one. Only confirmed for St. Pete; we hope it’s the rest of 2015.
  • RC Enerson (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports): Enerson makes the leap from USF2000 to Indy Lights this year with the new car. A rawer prospect compared to others, but has grown by leaps and bounds in last three years.
  • Jack Harvey (No. 42 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports): One of the few series veterans back for 2015, Harvey’s preseason hasn’t yet borne much in way of pace. Still must be considered a title contender, though.
  • Ethan Ringel (No. 71 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports): Ringel’s best thing going for him in 2015 is relatively minimal expectations, so if he pushes and beats his teammates regularly, he’ll be doing the job required of him.
  • Scott Anderson (No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports): Here’s my early sleeper pick to watch in Indy Lights. The Colorado native overachieved with Fan Force United last year, with the SPM equipment a sizeable upgrade.
  • Shelby Blackstock (No. 51 Andretti Autosport): A solid, dependable performer, Blackstock should bank several podium finishes, a win or two, and rank close to the top-five in points.
  • Matthew Brabham (No. 83 Andretti Autosport): Confirmed only for St. Pete at the moment, but is reflective and focused heading into the weekend. If he runs the season, he’s a title contender.
  • Felix Serralles (No. 4 Belardi Auto Racing): Puerto Rican driver was the first confirmed for 2015 but has flown relatively under the radar this winter. Has achieved some success in Europe and likely Belardi’s best threat this year.
  • Juan Piedrahita (No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing): Piedrahita returns for his second season, now with Belardi instead of Schmidt. Unlikely to trouble the top runners too much, but may sneak a podium or two.

PRO MAZDA

  • Neil Alberico (No. 2 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing): With Pigot finally winning last year’s Pro Mazda title, Alberico may well be the most talented veteran driver in the Mazda Road to Indy who’s missed a title up to this point. The Rising Star Racing driver is a good contender in ’15.
  • Daniel Burkett (No. 3 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing): The personable, orange-haired Canadian has his best opportunity yet in Mazda Road to Indy with the Capes. Provided he’s on pace with teammates Alberico and Latorre, he’ll be in good shape.
  • Florian Latorre (No. 10 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing): The USF2000 champion will look to match Matthew Brabham in following up with a Pro Mazda title the following year. A quiet but focused, fast Frenchman.
  • Garett Grist (No. 5 Juncos Racing): It was a tough Winterfest for the Canadian, who should fare a bit better in the regular season.
  • Timothe Buret (No. 6 Juncos Racing): The Mazda Road to Indy has been good to Frenchmen in the past, and Buret could well be the surprise French driver to note in 2015.
  • Jose Gutierrez (No. 7 Juncos Racing): The Mexican returns to the team for his second full season and looks to build on his Sonoma win to end 2014.
  • Will Owen (No. 23 Juncos Racing): Here’s my sleeper to watch in Pro Mazda this season. Overachieved in USF2000 and joins the Pro Mazda title-winning team.
  • Alessandro Latif (No. 14 World Speed Motorsports): The English driver has made an intriguing choice in going down the open-wheel path after racing some with Audi in sports cars.
  • Michael Johnson (No. 54 JDC Motorsports): The paralyzed driver remains one of racing’s best stories, but year two in the series needs some better results.
  • Weiron Tan (No. 22 Andretti Autosport): An early title contender who was one of the two stars of Winterfest. The Malaysian should win early and often.
  • Dalton Kellett (No. 28 Andretti Autosport): Smart kid, a MRTI veteran and a driver who should improve with Andretti in his second season.
  • Raoul Owens (No. 19 JDC Motorsports), Parker Nicklin (No. 26 JDC Motorsports), Kyle Connery (No. 91 JDC Motorsports): Respectable talents who could surprise with a team that has won titles in the past.
  • Santiago Urrutia (No. 81 Team Pelfrey), Pato O’Ward (No. 82 Team Pelfrey): They’re on board with the Winterfest-winning Team Pelfrey, but may find the going tougher in the regular season.
  • Bobby Eberle (No. 13 World Speed Motorsports), Jay Horak (No. 37 M1 Racing): Series veterans round out the field.

USF2000

  • Nico Jamin, Aaron Telitz (Nos. 2 and 3, Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing): It’s hard to pick against either of these two for the championship, at USF2000’s powerhouse team.
  • Keyvan Andres Soori, Max Hanratty, James Dayson (Nos. 5, 6 and 16, ArmsUp Motorsports): Andres Soori figures to be the best results-wise in this trio, with the other two learning and developing as the year goes on.
  • Augie Lerch (No. 12 JAY Motorsports): The 18-year-old moves up from F1600 and figures to develop in the single-car team throughout 2015.
  • Victor Franzoni (No. 17 Afterburner Autosport): A championship contender in his sophomore season.
  • Jake Eidson, Yufeng Luo (Nos. 22 and 23, Pabst Racing): Series sophomore Eidson figures to contend for the title while Luo will grow as the year progresses.
  • Anthony Martin, Jordan Lloyd (Nos. 33 and 94, John Cummiskey Racing): A very solid team, with the open-wheel veteran training two quick Australian rookies.
  • Andrew List (No. 61 D2D Motorsport), Santiago Lozano (No. 79 M2 Autosport): Second-year drivers who will continue to learn in 2015.
  • Parker Thompson (No. 80 JDC Motorsports): Another in the “talented and will learn throughout his rookie season” camp, in JDC’s lone USF2000 car.
  • Ayla Agren, Luke Gabin, Garth Rickards, Nikita Lastochkin (Nos. 81, 82, 83, 84 Team Pelfrey): A strong quartet of series newcomers who figure to come on later in the season. Watch the inter-team competition here.

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.”