IndyCar media day 2016: Rolling updates

Photo: Tony DiZinno
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INDIANAPOLIS – We are off and rolling at the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series media day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Contrary to last year, it’s semi-warm for February and there isn’t snow on the ground. The coffee is both good and needed.

The first press conference of the day has concluded and featured the four confirmed drivers with the least amount of combined experience: Mikhail Aleshin, Max Chilton, Spencer Pigot and Conor Daly.

Daly, who had his firesuit all ready to go, was told he needed to put it on in advance for some of the media commitments today. Seeing as the other three did not have a suit on, one could be forgiven for thinking Daly had been the setup of some “rookie hazing” as a practical joke.

Quick quotes from the four of them:

  • Aleshin on missing the 2015 season while in the European Le Mans Series: “It was an interesting experience. I tried to watch every race when I could. But of course, I missed IndyCar a lot. It’s one of the best series out there and I’m so happy to be here.”
  • Chilton on his conversations and dialogue with Ganassi: “It all kind of came up in July at Iowa, to win my second ever oval race was something. I’d had (conversations) with every team bar one. I got it down to two (teams) pretty quick. I had signed a few weeks ago.”
  • Pigot on whether he has any further confirmed races beyond the three he is already set with: “The plan is to do as many races as we can. I’ve been patient answering all the questions. I’ve been to testing with Graham Rahal at Sebring. I’ll only have one or two days testing before the first race.”
  • Daly on the power of Jonathan Byrd’s: “We were having fried chicken and then we thought, maybe we can put this deal together. So fried chicken and meat loaf for everyone this year. We’re gonna have a lot of American-ness this year, even though my suit is in Irish colors.”

The next batch of four drivers came through were branded as the “young guns and future legends,” and featured Graham Rahal, Josef Newgarden, James Hinchcliffe and a slightly delayed Marco Andretti. Hinchcliffe took the opportunity to joke that considering he’ll turn 30 in December and heads into his sixth season, he’s appreciative of still being called a “young gun.”

There weren’t a ton of season-worthy items discussed, more so their obvious presence on social media. Much laughter was exchanged. Quotes will follow later today.

Honda was next up and has confirmed their extension with INDYCAR. The big news isn’t that they have extended, but rather that they disclosed the length. Usually, “multiyear” is the de rigueur term used in these type announcements.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway president J. Douglas Boles is now up and discussing the updates thus far at IMS, for “Project 100,” as the Speedway continues to improve and innovate the iconic, historic facility heading into 2016. Again, quotes will follow later today.

Four words about the livery reveal for Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 9 Chevrolet at IMS: The Bolt is Back.

A separate post will follow on this for the car that ran from 1995 to 2001, and won IndyCar or CART championships four years in a row from 1996 to 1999, and the 2000 and 2001 Indianapolis 500s.

Here’s a gift from IMS to three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, and an unusual one at that.

A new season means new firesuits. Here’s one from Josef Newgarden, who will start the year in a Fuzzy’s Vodka livery in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power are reliving the finish of the 99th Indianapolis 500. I’m not 100 percent sure why.

Mark Miles had his comments and didn’t reveal anything Earth-shattering.

We went onto more informal press sessions, one-on-one, after that. Ed Carpenter took time to elaborate on the change in the ownership status within Ed Carpenter Racing, now back to ECR after the end of CFH Racing last week.

“It’s not huge internally,” Carpenter told assembled media. “We’d operated as ECR from 2012 through 2014. We merged with SFHR in 2015 to form CFH Racing. As we got into this offseason, all sorts of things we don’t need to get into, happened. Some partnership changes precipitated us going back to ECR for 2016.

“The important thing for me to have everyone understand, is that plans are the same now as for CFH. We’re running Josef full-time, I’ll run ovals, and hopefully have the 20 on roads. There’s still a little time to make it happen. That’s the biggest thing. We’re in good shape. Have all our people back in key positions.”

Carpenter didn’t rule out a return for Luca Filippi but said all options remain on the table for the second car on road and street courses, if it happens. He also maintains continual dialogue with JR Hildebrand in hopes of the young American continuing for another season. The tentative plan for the Indianapolis 500 for ECR is two cars, although that could change.

Regarding a strategist for Josef Newgarden, absent one with Andy O’Gara’s departure, Carpenter said it has been determined but not publicly named. The strategist, who currently resides within the team, would provide continuity rather than if it was Carpenter himself doing it on occasion.

We banked a number of interviews during the day and will roll those out in the days and weeks to come. Thanks for following.

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.”