Long Beach weekend, Friday notes

Photo: IndYCar
1 Comment

LONG BEACH, Calif. – Here some additional news and notes from the Verizon IndyCar Series, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge championships at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend, from Wednesday through Friday:

EVENT

  • On Thursday, legendary team owner Roger Penske and longtime track announcer Bruce Flanders were immortalized in Grand Prix of Long Beach history April 14 when inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame. Flanders, a local institutition and at one point Champ Car’s full-time series announcer, said, “This is such an honor. You go down that row (of Walk of Fame inductees), there is some heavy names, not one announcer. I did the math and just at this venue I have talked to over five million people.”
  • Two other big Thursday events took place, with the annual Road Racing Drivers Club dinner – which this year honored George Follmer – and the usual Thunder on Pine event. Here’s examples of them both from the same team: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Bobby Rahal, who also serves as RRDC President, emceed the RRDC dinner and spoke to Follmer, while one of the BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLMs was on display at Thunder on Pine. For good measure, RLL’s IndyCar team won the pit stop competition. I was at another event Thursday night (will get to that next week; a simulation run at CXC Simulations near LAX airport) but both of these are Long Beach staples.

INDYCAR

  • Past NFL wide receiver star Terrell Owens made the rounds today. We’ll have more on his day at the track to come later this weekend.
  • Appears we have a pace car driver for this year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil: “The Captain,” Roger Penske. More here per the Indianapolis Star‘s Curt Cavin.
  • Josef Newgarden wasn’t the only driver throwing out a first pitch this week. So too did Charlie Kimball, driver of the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet. Here’s some lead up tweets (one, two and three) along with the pitch itself.
  • Captain of Heartland Fire & Rescue ­ La Mesa (just outside San Diego), Sonny Saghera has been announced as the next member of the ‘CK Crew’ ­ the team of military veterans and first responders that will be PIRTEK Team Murray’s entry in this May’s Indy 500 Tag Heuer Pit Stop Challenge. Captain Saghera was announced at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach by PIRTEK Team Murray Ambassador, Taya Kyle, driver Matt Brabham and owner, Brett Murray.
  • Livery updates this week: Simon Pagenaud has light blue and white car with PPG Automotive Refinishes branding. It joins the No. 3 (AAA), No. 11 (CBU) and No. 15 (PennGrade) cars with different liveries this race. Marco Andretti’s No. 27 car continues with United Fiber & Data as a co-primary sponsor on his No. 27 Snapple Honda for Andretti Autosport. King Taco is also adorning Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda entry, on the flow conditioners or “sponsor blockers.”
  • While no deal is done for him yet for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Gabby Chaves told IndyCar Radio Friday he feels good about his chances to land one of the remaining seats. “I’m optimistic. I’m pretty close to making a deal… and that’s where I want to be,” Chaves told IndyCar Radio’s Nick Yeoman.
  • Grace Autosport has a number of its key stakeholders on site this weekend – Beth Paretta and Katherine Legge are both here, with Legge here driving the DeltaWing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – but no imminent announcements as to where it will land for the Indianapolis 500. Per multiple reports, Grace will not partner with KVSH Racing as was circulated a few weeks back. A Grace announcement was initially listed for Saturday morning, but has since been canceled.
  • During Wednesday night’s Night with Legends event at the Petersen Automotive Museum, Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company, said this year’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil will have a sellout crowd. “This Indy 500 is gonna be sold out. It hasn’t happened since 1995,” he told the room gathered, following the conclusion of the panel discussion.
  • Beyond the four winningest drivers in attendance, and A.J. Foyt’s video message, a group of past winners and series champions posed for a photo at the end of the evening. That group included the four honorees (Mario and Michael Andretti, Scott Dixon and Al Unser) along with Danny Sullivan, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, Al Unser Jr., Parnelli Jones and Bobby Rahal. In that photo alone are 14 Indianapolis 500 wins (Unser 4, Franchitti 3, Unser Jr. 2, Mario, Sullivan, Kanaan, Jones and Rahal all 1).

IMSA

  • The big concern coming from the IMSA paddock today is the speed differentiation and lap times between the PC and GTLM classes. Reason being, the GTLM cars are as quick if not quicker than PC cars when the PC Silver drivers are in, and only slightly behind when the PC cars put their pros in. Several GTLM drivers expressed concerns about the quality of racing if and when both classes get intermingled on Saturday, which could happen as soon as there’s a caution flag. Watch this space.
  • One of the PC drivers to watch this weekend is Starworks Motorsport’s Renger van der Zande, who shares the No. 8 Oreca FLM09 with Alex Popow, a past Long Beach winner. Van der Zande makes his track debut and todl NBC Sports: “It’s a ballsy track. If you brake too late, it doesn’t end well. You have to be so confident to brake late.”
  • Another driver to watch is Performance Tech Motorsports’ James French, whose co-driver Kyle Marcelli is pulling double duty between IMSA and PWC this weekend. French, the Detroit polesitter last year, said he loves the circuit and was surprised with the early pace.
  • It’s a short drive from the Scuderia Corsa race shop in Los Angeles, as well as the team’s affiliated dealerships in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and South Bay, to the seaside city of Long Beach. So at this weekend’s Grand Prix of Long Beach, the drivers and crew of Scuderia Corsa will enjoy an overwhelming amount of support for the trio of Ferraris that will compete on the temporary circuit of Long Beach. In IMSA, Alessandro Balzan and Daniel Serra share the team’s No. 68 Ferrari 488 GTE.
  • Two big stories emerged from the morning practice: one, Mazda’s pace is legitimate and two, the No. 67 Ford GT had a fire, although the cause is unknown. A potential fuel pressure issue arose before Richard Westbrook stopped the car driver’s right exiting Turn 3.

  • Meanwhile here’s what Jonathan Bomarito had to say after Mazda’s Prototype program led its first ever session in the No. 55 car: “They’ve changed a few things on the track that have helped us. Some of the big curbing they had last year, we just couldn’t use while the DPs could. That really hurt us, especially in Turn 8 coming onto the back straightaway. They eliminated the big curbs there, so now we can carry more speed and run right to the [inside] wall. It’s smoother and helps launch our car down that straight. So, just on track conditions versus last year, we’ve really closed the gap on the handling. That’s good. The car’s running good. The team’s doing good. Everybody’s doing their job.”
  • The Panoz DeltaWing Racing team is continuing to send its best wishes to its senior race engineer Catherine Crawford, who is recovering following emergency surgery for a brain tumor. These two signs are on the back of the team’s transporter for folks to sign.

  • Local driver Tomy Drissi is back with BAR1 Motorsports this weekend. The No. 20 Oreca FLM09 he shares with Johnny Mowlem is adorned in Drissi’s latest movie production: X-Men Apocalypse, with the tagline Only the Strong will Survive. Matt McMurry is set to share the car with Mowlem for five of the remaining six sprint races this season (not Detroit).

PWC

  • A fairly interesting, and long, drivers meeting took place Friday afternoon, ahead of World Challenge’s first track time. Without giving away too much, the thing to watch this weekend will be the initial start and restarts (if any) in terms of when the pace car pulls off and when the leader accelerates.
  • World Challenge will have a bit of a time oddity for its Sunday air times, for the taped-as-live but not-exactly-airing-as-live broadcast on the CBS Sports Network. The race runs starting at 10 a.m. PT and local time, but there’s the slight problem of the race not airing until 11 a.m. PT/2 p.m. ET. Live timing will be available at livetiming.net/PWC. The full race preview from earlier this week is linked here.
  • Besides Tim Pappas, who makes his series return this weekend in the Roscoe’s Dodge Viper GT3-R, Bill Sweedler and Brent Holden also make their first starts of the year.
  • Also of note, Alex Gurney will rejoin the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team at Long Beach, visiting the team this weekend. Gurney hasn’t spent a weekend with the group since the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona, a race when Gurney qualified on the overall pole but Memo Gidley had his savage accident in the race. Jon Fogarty, driver of the No. 99 McLaren 650S GT3, makes his return to Long Beach for the first time since 2004, when he raced with Tyler Tadevic’s Pacific Coast Motorsports team in Formula Atlantic.
  • Andrew Davis makes his track debut this weekend, somewhat surprisingly. Davis didn’t drive American Le Mans Series’ GTC class in 2013 with Dempsey Del Piero that weekend because it conflicted with the GRAND-AM Rolex Series at Road Atlanta, where he drove in Brumos Racing’s last race.
  • It’s a short drive from the Scuderia Corsa race shop in Los Angeles, as well as the team’s affiliated dealerships in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and South Bay, to the seaside city of Long Beach. So at this weekend’s Grand Prix of Long Beach, the drivers and crew of Scuderia Corsa will enjoy an overwhelming amount of support for the trio of Ferraris that will compete on the temporary circuit of Long Beach. In PWC, Bill Sweedler and Martin Fuentes race the team’s Nos. 11 and 07 Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.

SOCIAL

Van der Zande didn’t just reflect on the track, but en route to Los Angeles, he also bumped into one of the world’s hottest DJs in Martin Garrix. Garrix is playing at the Snake Pit this year at the Indianapolis 500.

Will Power has never hid his love for rap and with the domed skid drama entering the L-B-C, Power dropped some rhymes Thursday on Twitter to pay homage and tribute to Snoop Dogg’s legendary hit “Gin and Juice.”

We still have a couple more sessions today, with World Challenge first practice ongoing now and IMSA second practice and qualifying from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
0 Comments

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.”