Toronto’s new turn complex, revised pit lane receive mixed reviews

Photo: IndyCar

TORONTO – The final four, but primarily the final three, turns of the now revised 1.786-mile Exhibition Place street course at the Honda Indy Toronto are easily the hot topic of conversation after the first day of track activity here.

Construction on the new Hotel X has prompted the Green Savoree Promotions promoted event to move the pit lane from the right side of the course, where it has traditionally been, to driver’s left. Cars will enter 35-foot pit boxes, among the shortest on the schedule.

And then there’s the turn complex itself, where with pit in at driver’s left just after Turn 8 – and it’s barely wide enough for one car – the course then narrows significantly through the left-handed Turn 9, the right-handed Turn 10 and then the final left-handed Turn 11. The event promoters told USA Today Sports‘ Brant James it’s a 32-feet difference.

Incidents were aplenty, with a handful of significant accidents occurring in the earlier Mazda Road to Indy sessions. There were at least six crashes between the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, and two cars were tubbed and needed replacements.

A deal was struck to see Jordan Lloyd (Pabst Racing) take over Ayla Agren (John Cummiskey Racing’s) chassis in USF2000, with Agren unfortunately sidelined this weekend due to financial constraints. Meanwhile Jake Parsons moved from his own car to Garett Grist’s old Juncos Racing chassis in Pro Mazda.

Then we got to the IndyCar session, where Juan Pablo Montoya and Charlie Kimball crashed hard at Turn 11.

Driver reactions were mixed on the course changes and with the first day of running in the books, the potential exists there still could be further tweaks.

Here’s a sampling of the reactions from the five drivers who came into the media center today:

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet

“If I have a say, I would make some change, for sure. The main thing is IndyCar, they always adapt, especially the competitors, the drivers, they always adapt whatever circumstances.

“At the least, we don’t have a railroad in the middle of the tracks, like we did in the past. That I have to admit was a little bit too extreme

“It’s a challenge for everyone. It’s difficult. Certainly, yes, if you ask me, if you have the power to change, I would like to make a little bit better. In the end of the day, you have to go with what you have.

“For me the pits are very tough. Where I’m stopping, it’s crooked, I don’t see people coming. I have to rely on the radio sometimes. It’s a little bit difficult because people have different perceptions.

“The racetrack, it will be tough to have a restart side-by-side. However, it might be good so you don’t have a pile of cars in turn one crash. You’re going to have a little bit of separation.

“There is a pro and a con. I would say I would make the walls a little bit wider. If we have to remove the light poles, to make it a little bit wider, I definitely would do that.”

James Hinchcliffe, No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

“It’s a pretty big learning process for everybody out there. One-third of the lap roughly is completely different than it has been for as long as I’ve been racing here. It’s definitely very challenging. They didn’t make it easier, that’s for sure.

“Simon likes it better, which is good for him (laughter). I think it presents a tremendous challenge for the engineers. Really tricky sections in terms of concrete patches, blind corners, tight corners.

“It was tricky to get through 11 behind a car. I haven’t done it now in the new configuration. It’s a bit slower, trickier. I think it’s a little bit easier to screw up than it was, which could potentially lead to more passing into turn one. So that is not a bad thing.

“Eight was silly. I don’t know why we did that, why we let that happen. No reason to take the curve away in eight on the apex. It massively slowed down the corner, took away the opportunity for racing. It wasn’t the best opportunity, but it was an opportunity for sure.”

Simon Pagenaud, No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet

“I like the fact that Turn 10 is off camber. It’s probably the only place where you have a corner off camber. All of a sudden you really have to think about it. Okay, how am I going to make this corner? I’m not used to this. We usually go in an oval where it’s banked the right way. Mid-Ohio some like that, too. But it’s quite new.

“I like changes. I may be different to most, but I like changes. I like slippery places because you really have to place your car the right way, like James pointed out.

“Yeah, I like that you have to dance with the car. You have to be inches precise. The last corner, you saw it, if you’re not inches precise, you’re going to hit the wall. It’s going to be a big one. I like that risk/reward kind of situation.

“I think 11 is better for passing because, yeah, it’s so hard to get right that there will be a speed differentiation. If the guy behind you manage to get it right, on ‘push to pass’, it could have more of an effect.

“Restarts, I also think it’s going to be a very tricky corner, very tricky section on cold tires. There will be a lot of action in turn one now. So I think it’s a plus.”

Josef Newgarden, No. 21 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet

“What are you going to do at the start. How are you expecting people to go two-wide and prepare for a two-wide start. I don’t know what they’re going to do yet. They were waiting to see feedback from session one.

“I think it will be very difficult if that’s what we’re going to do. I think you just have to delay the start way down the straightaway because we’re going to have to go really slow around turn 11 to get cars two-wide around there.

“Maybe that’s what we’re going to have to do, is push it to the backstretch. I’d be surprised if they do it. From a promoter standpoint, they don’t want to do that. So I don’t have an answer for you. I think it will be in discussion. I think it will probably be like a vote thing. We’ll see how session two goes again.

“My guess will be that they will either push back on the front straight where they throw the green to give us more time to get on the front straightaway or maybe they’ll do something like that on the backstretch. It’s going to be really tight. I think we’re going to have to go really slow at the start of the race.”

Luca Filippi, No. 19 IMPCO ComfortPro Honda

“This year obviously it is a bit difficult, a bit different because I didn’t race in Detroit obviously. I get a car that is not exactly the car that I built for myself. I’m trying and get it more suitable for me and more drivable.

“Also the circuit has changed a little. So what we know was working here in the past may be a little different for this year what we need.

“We are working. But I think the gap to the leaders is not so big. I think we know where to improve. I’m really looking forward to practice two because I want to see if we can really improve and get a strong result.

“I’m not here, honestly speaking, just to participate and trying to aim for a potential top 10. I want to do very well. I’m motivated. I’m pumped up. I want to really fight to the front.

“I know it’s difficult. There are many, many fast guys and fast teams out there. But we here to try and do a good job.”

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

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws

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.”