Jani’s Porsche, Mueller’s Ford headline provisional Le Mans polesitters

Photo: ACO
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Two iconic manufacturers have the provisional poles in the marquee classes for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Neel Jani, last year’s overall polesitter, has the provisional top spot overall and in LMP1 this year in the No. 2 Porsche 919 Hybrid with a best time of 3:19.733 around the 8.4-mile Circuit de la Sarthe.

But the bigger story comes in GTE-Pro, where Ford has – for the moment – appeared to play the Balance of Performance game to its advantage with locking out four of the top five positions on the provisional grid. The manufacturer makes its much trumpeted return to Le Mans as a factory effort this year on the 50th anniversary of its 1966 win with the original Ford GT.

Dirk Mueller was best of the Fords in the No. 68 Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA Ford GT at a 3:51.185, that coming on the car’s 22nd and final lap of the two-hour provisional qualifying session.

Other provisional polesitters included Rene Rast in the No. 26 G-Drive Racing Oreca 05 Nissan in LMP2 (3:36.605) and Rob Bell in the No. 61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari F458 Italia in GTE-Am (3:56.827).

With rain a distinct possibility for Thursday’s pair of two hour sessions, which run from 7 to 9 and 10 to 12 p.m. local time, respectively, there is a very good chance that these times set the grid for Saturday’s 84th running of the French endurance classic.

Brief class breakdowns are below:

LMP1

  • It’s a ‘”Noah’s Ark” style provisional grid with two Porsches, then two Toyota TS050 Hybrids and two Audi R18s, before the two privateer Rebellion R-One AERs. The ByKolles CLM P1/01 AER didn’t get out during the session after a fire in free practice.
  • Per Radio Le Mans, the Audis were delayed out in the session.

LMP2

  • The top four cars are Oreca 05 variants – two Oreca 05s and the rebadged Alpine A460s – with the top Ligier the lone Ligier JS P2 Honda in the field, courtesy of a flier from Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 49 Michael Shank Racing car.
  • The No. 31 Tequila Patron ESM Ligier JS P2 Nissan – which runs in white and black Paul Mitchell colors this race owing to alcoholic restrictions – was sixth.
  • The top open-top car was the No. 42 Strakka Racing Gibson 015S Nissan in eighth in class.
  • The No. 27 SMP Racing BR01 Nissan that includes IndyCar driver Mikhail Aleshin is 15th in class.

GTE-Pro

  • Might as well be all about the BoP. Ford and Ferrari have locked out the top seven positions in the 14-car field with their seven entered cars, leaving the remaining seven cars from Corvette, Aston Martin and Porsche all 3.733 seconds or more in arrears.
  • IndyCar stars Sebastien Bourdais and Scott Dixon are in the Nos. 68 and 69 cars and tentatively first and second.

GTE-Am

  • Ferrari has four of the top six in this class with the older Ferrari F458 Italia; the top Porsche is the No. 78 KCMG entry in seventh.
  • NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell is currently ninth in the No. 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari F458 Italia he shares with Jeff Segal and Bill Sweedler.

Provisional pole quotes

Jani to Radio Le Mans’ Bruce Jones: “It was not an easy session. None of us had a clear run. It was quite a difficult session to manage. We’ll see. Maybe it is enough. Maybe not. It’s a good start to the weekend for sure. I hit a lot of traffic especially in the Porsche corners I lost quite a bit of time. We know we have some more in our pockets. If we need to use more, we’ll see. That’s racing here, or qualifying here. You need a bit of luck sometimes.”

Rast to Radio Le Mans’ Shea Adam: “[Rain] would be ideal! We hope for some rain. But we still can improve the car. Got quite a bit traffic. We can go six or seventh tenths quicker. Very happy with pole position so far. Good lineup. For now it’s a bit perfect.”

Mueller to Jones: “I got my clear lap at the end. Be patient, be patient. Finally, last lap, it was a good lap to the checkered flag. I’ve been there on the podium with Joey (Hand) before. Lots of experience. Combined it’s just really really nice.”

Bell to Adam: “Not too fussed to be honest. We have good pace, good car. Wherever we are in quali, we are. If it rains tomorrow, great. If you’re pole here only means you cross line first with 24 hours left. I’m playing a down a bit. But it’d be a feather in cap to get pole. We haven’t got a huge quali setup on the car.”

PROVISIONAL QUALIFYING TIMES

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.”