United Autosports exploring U.S. LMP3 option

Photo: United Autosports
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United Autosports is exploring the possibility of fielding an LMP3 entry in next year’s IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda series.

The Anglo American team’s Richard Dean was on site at Road America this weekend to gauge the possibility of United Autosports – which has starred in LMP3 in the European Le Mans Series this year – adding a U.S. component to its program. Dean and Zak Brown are co-owners, although Brown’s work with his Just Marketing Inc. (JMI) company occupies a significant chunk of his time.

“It’s interesting. That’s why we’re here,” Dean, United Autosports team owner and managing director, told NBC Sports. “We have a facility in Indianapolis that’s underused. We have a facility. We can store cars and equipment.

“We’re looking to see if we can do it. I wanted to see what the announcement was about. We have the facility here; we have a good background to the series in Europe, and it’s something we could maybe complement it.”

LMP3’s role in the global sports car ecosystem will differ in North America compared to Europe.

In Europe, it’s the second rung in the three-class European Le Mans Series, in-between LMP2 and ahead of GTE.

Here, with LMP3 not going to replace the outgoing Prototype Challenge class in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2017, LMP3 is now placed in a separate series.

“(The ELMS way) does make a lot more sense, doesn’t it?” Dean explained. “Going LMP3 to LMP2 in the same series is an easy, uncomplicated step. And as you quite rightly say, every team’s ambition is to go to Le Mans. We’re no different, as in terms of logistics, pit crew, it’s basically the same P3 as P2. It’s an uncluttered thing.

“Here, even next year with DPi, they’re going their own way with those cars. PC never took off in Europe. It’s always a little bit different here.”

In case you’re not really aware of United Autosports’ prowess in Europe, Dean provided a quick primer on some of the team’s accomplishments and pedigree.

“LMP3 has been fantastic for us,” he said. “We have been in GT3 for a long time. Audi, we ran with good success. And then Audi brought out a new car.

“As a team you look at the new generation of GT3 cars. Between the obstacles of price, which car do you go with and Balance of Performance, you don’t know if you’re going to have the right car, and if you’d be fashionable and popular.

“We didn’t know what we’d be doing. Then LMP3 came along and answered all those questions. It’s cost-capped, affordable, good spares, and engine life is guaranteed. With no Balance of Performance, that, for me, is fantastic.”

Dean also explained the balancing act between he and Brown about how the team works.

“He’s got a very important day job ranging from all series from Formula 1 down,” Dean said. “He loves the team. It’s his passion. We own the team 50 percent each.

“We complement each other quite well. I do the day job, day-to-day running, and with Zak having everything from bringing some financial backing to this team, to his commercial ability, marketing, and direction, we sort of complement each other.

“He was first person on the phone, the minute the press announcement wrapped. He’s thinking about the American market. I do the big picture stuff.”

The team would be a valuable addition to the U.S. shores; we’ll see if it comes to fruition.

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.”