F1 Preview: 2016 European Grand Prix

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The first back-to-back of the 2016 Formula 1 season is arguably one of the most brutal in the sport’s 66-year history.

Following an intriguing Canadian Grand Prix on Sunday in Montreal, the paddock had to swiftly jet across the Atlantic and over western Europe to get to Baku, Azerbaijan for this weekend’s European Grand Prix.

The intention to hold a grand prix in Baku was stated back in 2014, and it will finally become a reality on Sunday on a circuit comprising the streets in the heart of the city.

The Baku City Circuit is set to be the fastest street course on the F1 calendar, but also features one of the most challenging sections drivers have seen at Turns 8, 9 and 10 – tight, uphill and a blind exit could catch out many.

Lewis Hamilton arrives in Baku on a roll after two straight wins in Monaco and Canada, but can championship leader Nico Rosberg stop his streak and become Baku’s first winner?

Here are a few talking points ahead of the European Grand Prix weekend.

2016 European Grand Prix – Talking Points

Baku-na matata

There was a certain degree of scepticism surrounding the race in Baku when it was announced given the absence of racing history in Azerbaijan. The falling price of oil also raised concerns about the viability of the event, but the initial feedback from the paddock on Wednesday and Thursday has been overwhelmingly positive.

While it may seem like an injustice that nations such as France lack a grand prix despite having a rich racing heritage, new events can succeed without it. Abu Dhabi and Singapore are two examples, and Baku will hope to follow suit.

No margin for error

Since the first images of the planned layout in Baku were released earlier this year, the tight complex around the historic part of the city always seemed somewhat ambitious. The layout has been kept, meaning there will be zero margin for error.

“I think there’s a few people that are going to write off some chassis on Baku weekend – hopefully not me though!” quipped Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

“I can’t think of anything like Baku that’s currently on the calendar. It’s tough because there are a lot of third-gear corners, so you want a bit of downforce for those, but then you’ve got a 2.5 km straight, over 20 seconds of full throttle.”

Hamilton eyes the championship lead

In the space of two races and three weeks, Lewis Hamilton has gone from trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by 43 points in the drivers’ championship to being only nine away. The reversal in fortunes is one that the Briton himself finds hard to fathom, yet he appears to have rediscovered his mojo.

Rosberg needs to respond quickly. He admitted in Canada that he felt “massively pissed off” with Hamilton for his Turn 1 move in the heat of the moment, but knew there was little to complain about – it’s racing.

Even a second place finish would be something for Rosberg in Baku. He may have won the first four races, but without a podium since Russia, the German is in a make-or-break phase for his championship.

Ferrari hopes to keep up Canada pace

Ferrari’s long-awaited engine update in Canada offered a significant uptake in pace, allowing Sebastian Vettel to run Hamilton close for victory. The battle between them is one all too rare in F1 given they are the two defining drivers of this decade.

Vettel’s charge to second will have filled Ferrari with confidence, even if the results leading up to it left much to be desired. He and teammate Kimi Raikkonen will know that Baku presents another opportunity, even if Red Bull and Mercedes should both be strong.

A three-way fight at the front could be on the cards – and what a place for it to happen.

Opportunity knocks for lower-midfield and backmarkers

The tight nature of the Baku City Circuit means that retirements and safety cars are likely on Sunday. As a result, there is an opportunity to be had for the teams in the lower-midfield and the backmarkers.

The likes of Haas, Renault, Sauber and Manor will all be hopeful of captializing on any opportunities that come their way. In Sauber’s case, a breakthrough score is desperately needed, while Haas will want to end its scoreless run since Russia.

For Renault, the race of attrition poses another challenge given it is reportedly arriving in Baku short on parts and without a spare chassis for either of its drivers after shunts in Monaco and Montreal.

And Manor? Races like this always bring back memories of Jules Bianchi’s charge to the points in Monaco two years ago. Pascal Wehrlein’s pace thus far has been massively impressive, so it is not out of the question.

2016 European Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Baku City Circuit
Corners
: 20
Lap Record: N/A
Tire Compounds: Medium/Soft/Super-Soft
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T20 to T1); T2 to T3

2016 European Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 5am ET 6/17
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 9am ET 6/17
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 6am ET 6/18
Qualifying: NBCSN 9am ET 6/18
Race: NBCSN 8am ET 6/19

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.”