United States GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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AUSTIN, Texas – Friday at the United States Grand Prix, edition 2015, is in the books.  Unfortunately the fans who were dedicated and hearty enough to come out to the track only got one session’s worth of running, with some decent action in free practice one occurring before a deluge occurred to wash out free practice two.

As such, it’s hard to glean too much from today’s times this morning, but it is important to note how long some of the runs were on Pirelli’s intermediate tire.

Perhaps the biggest news of the day was what was unexpected, when Lotus F1 Team CEO Matthew Carter said during the FIA Friday Press Conference that the team’s second driver would be named within the hour. Soon enough, there was confirmation of Jolyon Palmer alongside Pastor Maldonado for 2016.

Here’s a roundup of today’s posts, features and analysis from Friday at Circuit of The Americas:

SESSION REPORTS

PADDOCK NEWS AND FEATURES

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Eeny, meeny, miny, Renault?

Just as the old children’s song had four possible choices, so too does Red Bull in regards to its 2016 engine situation. Excuse the creative liberty as I opted to swap “Renault” in for “moe” – it rhymes and it also seems to be the most realistic option as it stands. Except if it isn’t.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner made the media rounds today, first telling Sky Sports tongue-in-cheek that there was a 25 percent chance of choosing Honda next year. Then he spoke to NBCSN’s Will Buxton during the rain-canceled FP2, saying, “Of course there’s a lot of speculation. This week it’s Honda. It was Ferrari last week. Renault before that. There’s a lot of conversation in the background.”

Finally in the FIA Friday Press Conference, Horner reiterated his goal is to keep Red Bull not just afloat but competitive in the future – that is his clear objective – but whether that is with or without the blessing of his ultimate boss, Red Bull’s Dietrich Mateschitz, still remains to be seen.

The saga that seems to have no end date in sight needs a resolution soon, as several in the room noted the urgency of getting something sorted sooner rather than later.

Another engine option for 2017? 

Late word came in Friday night, via Auto Motor und Sport and Motorsport.com, that the FIA may push a concept of a low-budget power unit, rumored to be a 2.2L twin-turbo V6 engine – the same engines you see in IndyCar – for 2017. Watch this space to see if or how it develops.

Palmer’s graduation after grad school

Lotus reserve and third driver Jolyon Palmer has made it to Formula 1 after winning the GP2 Series championship after all – just a year late. The Englishman was confirmed late Friday afternoon to join the team for 2016, replacing Haas-bound Romain Grosjean.

Palmer’s appointment isn’t necessarily a surprise – he’s driven or been scheduled to drive in 11 free practice sessions this season – but the timing is. Earlier this month, Pastor Maldonado said he had no preference over a a teammate, but just in the last week or so, said he’d prefer a teammate with experience. Now, he doesn’t have one, as Palmer will find his footing in his maiden Grand Prix season.

Interestingly, poor Palmer has had a rough go of things in his most recent practice sessions. After banking a wealth of laps in seven of his first eight outings, he’s only had nine total laps in his last three, in the Russian Grand Prix FP1 session that barely had any running. At both Suzuka and now today in Austin, Palmer’s been nominated to drive but hasn’t completed any laps.

Rain reigns, part one, with Saturday timetable TBD

The expectation was that FP1 wouldn’t see much running, but it did. Meanwhile FP2 was entirely washed out, with torrential rain then sweeping through the paddock only about five minutes after 2 p.m. CT and local time, when the session was scheduled to start. It marks yet another Friday where there hasn’t been proper running in at least one of the two sessions for the field.

The question, of course is how whatever rain is leftover and hits central Texas stemming from Hurricane Patricia – the Category 5 hurricane which is well on its way to Mexico – will affect the timetable for Saturday’s running. It may be a case where Saturday becomes a complete washout.

The thoughts, prayers and concerns are with those neighbors to the south first, given what by all accounts is shaping up to be a monster of a storm.

“How you doin’?”

On a much lighter note, I don’t know if he got TV time today, but I managed to spot Matt LeBlanc at the Lotus F1 Team garage just before FP2. The former Friends and current Episodes star has been to each of the three previous USGPs at Austin, and kept his streak alive by showing up today – we can only assume he took shelter shortly after this shot.

Lotus paid tribute to LeBlanc’s appearance with an excellent play-on-words of Friends episode titles. Each Friends episode begins with the words, “The one where…,” and so Lotus rather astutely called its social media recap of free practice two, “The one where we didn’t actually have FP2…”. Top job, lads.

***

Join us tomorrow for all of the action from Austin on NBC Sports Live Extra (FP3 at 11 a.m. ET), with NBCSN coverage starting at 12:30 p.m. ET. FP3 will be shown, and will lead straight into LIVE qualifying, projected to start at 2 p.m. ET. For more information on the broadcasting options for the United States GP, click here.

More tomorrow from what is bound to be another abnormal day at the office.

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.”