IndyCar 2016 team preview: Chip Ganassi Racing Teams

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NBC Sports takes a look through the teams competing in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series. Chip Ganassi Racing Teams heads into 2016 with arguably its biggest overall program: four IndyCars, two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars, four Ford GTs split two apiece between the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship and likely, a two-car Red Bull Global Rallycross program for another season. The IndyCar program looks to continue its incredible success, 20 years after its first crown in 1996.

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing Teams
Engine/aero kits: Chevrolet
Sponsors: Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. (No. 8), Target (No. 9), NTT Data (No. 10), Novo Nordisk (No. 83)

2015 STATS

Races: 16
Wins: 3 (Dixon 3)
Podiums: 10 (Dixon 4, Kanaan 3, Kimball 2, Karam 1)
Pole Positions: 2 (Dixon 2)
Fastest Laps: 3 (Dixon 2, Kimball 1)
Points: 1652 (Dixon 556, Kanaan 431, Kimball 372, Karam 197, Saavedra 96)
Laps Led: 554 (Dixon 306, Kanaan 213, Kimball 21, Karam 12, Saavedra 12)
Championship Position: 1st (Dixon), 8th (Kanaan), 12th (Kimball), 20th (Karam), 25th (Saavedra)

2016 LINEUP (Engineer in parentheses)

8 Max Chilton (Brandon Fry)
9 Scott Dixon (Chris Simmons)
10 Tony Kanaan (Todd Malloy)
83 Charlie Kimball (Eric Cowdin)

2015 TEAM RECAP (Dixon, Kanaan, Kimball, Karam, Saavedra driver recaps)

If not as outright dominant on pace as Team Penske was in qualifying, where Chip Ganassi Racing Teams excelled throughout all of 2015 was in seizing the moment on race day, usually via great strategy and pit work. Only Charlie Kimball and Brad Goldberg maintained the same driver-to-engineer relationship entering the year, but Scott Dixon with Chris Simmons and Tony Kanaan with Todd Malloy immediately gelled once they were paired. Dixon got a big career monkey off his back with a Long Beach win, then praised the team for a downforce call to win Texas, and then had his whole team help propel him to a shock win and title at Sonoma after starting the day ninth on the grid, down 47 points.

Elsewhere in the team, Kanaan and Kimball had occasional high points but generally played the supporting act role. Kanaan was unlucky to not win at Iowa, and Dixon’s crew’s work netted him a critical extra point there. The fourth car – shared by Sage Karam and Sebastian Saavedra – never hit the same high points given the lack of rhythm in via the ride-share situation. To be fair, both Karam and Saavedra occasionally overachieved, but Karam far too often found himself in the crosshairs.

2016 OUTLOOK

A simpler 2016 presents itself for Ganassi’s men, albeit with two key changes. It’s Kimball who’s got a new engineer in Eric Cowdin, with Goldberg now on Ganassi’s No. 67 Ford GT in IMSA. Cowdin moves to the No. 83 car from the No. 8 car, which has neither Karam nor Saavedra but instead F1 veteran Max Chilton, who came on stronger as the 2015 Indy Lights season progressed. Chilton and Brandon Fry worked together on the ill-fated Nissan LMP1 program last year and early signs for the two of them are positive.

Still, while Kimball and Chilton are likely to play the “top spoiler” role, the best win and title chances of Ganassi rest with the two decade-plus veterans of Dixon and Kanaan. Dixon remains IndyCar’s best all-around ace, with Kanaan undoubtedly keen to return to victory lane after more than a year since his last win. A Dixon title challenge is inevitable, a Kanaan title challenge possible with the other two likely in the frame for the occasional podium finish. It’s 20 years since Ganassi’s first title in 1996; they’ll be looking for their 12th this year.

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.”