IMSA kicks off busy summer stretch with annual trip to Watkins Glen

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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A freshly repaved surface and a crazy stretch of action greet the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship upon its trip to Watkins Glen International this weekend for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen.

It was a five month and $12 million project, but “The Glen” is as smooth as a billiard table and lightning fast for the third round of IMSA’s Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup – and the first race since the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March where all four of its classes will be competing in the same race at the same time.

Meanwhile the six-hour race kicks off a stretch of three races in four weeks, and also four in six, through the first full weekend of August. This is Round 6 for the prototype classes, Round 5 for the GT classes, before Canadian Tire Motorsport Park next week, Lime Rock Park on July 23 (no Prototype) and Road America on August 7.

“Michael Printup and his team have done an excellent job with the repaving of Watkins Glen,” said Travis Roffler, director of marketing for Continental Tire. “We had an excellent test in May and tire wear looked really good. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a couple track records set this weekend. We think the drivers are going to have fun and the fans are going to see some extremely competitive racing. It’s going to be a great race weekend!”

“The new surface is amazing,” added Ryan Dalziel, driver of the No. 90 Visit Florida Racing Corvette DP. “It’s been a long time since I’ve driven on a new surface so good. I have to commend Watkins Glen on improving an already perfect race track.”

PROTOTYPE

Dalziel isn’t quite in the championship fight – he missed a race per his FIA World Endurance Championship commitments – but is no doubt keen to win his first race of the year co-driving with Marc Goossens at a track where the No. 90 car has won the last two years, with Richard Westbrook and Michael Valiante.

The pair of Corvette DPs that do lead the title fight, with Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa (No. 5 Action Express Racing) and Jordan and Ricky Taylor (No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing) are tied on 151 points, and the Dane Cameron/Eric Curran pairing in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering-backed AXR entry is just four back.

Yet while those cars have the top-end pace, they lack the sophisticated aero that suits most of the other cars in class. The Watkins Glen track is one of several that should favor LMP2-spec cars, and as such, the pair of Ligier JS P2 Hondas from Michael Shank Racing and Tequila Patron ESM and the pair of Mazda Prototypes should put up a tough fight. The Mazdas run in a tribute livery to commemorate its 25th anniversary of its 1991 win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The DeltaWing should be fast as well and hopes to have the reliability to match, with the Highway to Help DP rounding out the class field.

PROTOTYPE CHALLENGE

Starworks Motorsport finally broke through in Detroit for its first win of the year with Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow in the team’s No. 8 Oreca FLM09, which moves them into the points lead over the PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports pairing of Tom Kimber-Smith and Robert Alon, the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca winners. JDC/Miller Motorsports had a thrash to even make Detroit and the pair of Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg look to bounce back this weekend; it’s been a tough-ish season for several-time champions CORE autosport, and Colin Braun and Jon Bennett will look to win their second enduro of the year (Sebring).

GT LE MANS

The star attractions from this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans come home this weekend to the GTLM (GTE-Pro at Le Mans) class for what will be the class’ first race in more than two months.

Ford enters as favorites and with the spoils of Le Mans glory in their back pocket. Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller now have the chance to come home and win at the Glen after winning two weeks ago at Le Mans.

It’s the No. 4 Corvette pair though of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner that lead the points by 12 over Long Beach rivals Porsche, the pair in the No. 912 of Earl Bamber and Fred Makowiecki having likely given them nightmares since “Mako” dumped Milner in the final hairpin. Gavin and Milner won Daytona and Sebring though and look for a third win in the TPNAEC this weekend.

Ferrari is also keen to impress with Risi Competizione also having starred at Le Mans, while Scuderia Corsa continues again with its GTLM entry.

BMW struggled on Michelin’s new tires at Mazda Raceway, as did Corvette, and both manufacturers will look to be better suited this weekend. Highlighting the weekend for BMW Team RLL is a Team PTG throwback scheme on the No. 25 M6 GTLM driven by Dirk Werner and Bill Auberlen.

GT DAYTONA

Consistency as well as a win at Sebring have Scuderia Corsa’s pair of Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan ahead in the GTD points with their No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3. They’re up by eight over the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R pairing of Mario Farnbacher and Alex Riberas, who dominated at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Both drivers have third drivers this race in Jeff Segal, who won Le Mans in GTE-Am with the team, and Ian James – and both bolster their lineups.

Bryan Sellers gets a chance to defend a Watkins Glen win but in another class in his No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 he shares with Madison Snow. He won GTLM last year in what was Falken Tire’s last IMSA win and will now look to deliver Lamborghini its first IMSA triumph, after securing the manufacturer’s first pole at Detroit.

Audi’s hopes are carried by the eternally humorous Magnus Racing, which won Daytona, as well as Stevenson Motorsports, which have been close but not yet made it to the podium with its new R8 LMS.

An endurance-only entry, the No. 93 Viper, won this class last year which leaves the race wide open among the remaining entrants. The No. 33 Gas Monkey Energy Viper for Riley Motorsports (Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating) looks for two in a row after winning Detroit to kick off the month of June.

A FULL DOCKET ELSEWHERE

Beyond the WeatherTech Championship, there’s also eight other races on the schedule:

  • Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Round 4 (first since Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in early May)
  • 3 Mazda Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires races (first since Sebring in March)
  • 2 Porsche GT3 USA/Canada races (both have run in Canada)
  • 2 Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America races (first since Mazda Raceway)

All of those are complete by Saturday before the WeatherTech race on Sunday.

WGtuneinIMSA

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.”