Shank, RealTime Acura NSX GT3 programs confirmed

Photo: Tony DiZinno
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SONOMA, Calif. – You’ve seen the new Acura NSX GT3, which has been through its initial testing and first public outings at both the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Utah Motorsports Complex, but which won’t be in action this weekend at either Circuit of The Americas or Sonoma Raceway because of the tight time frame before the upcoming FIA Balance of Performance test in Ladoux, France, which follows this weekend’s racing.

You will note that both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge are in action at COTA and Sonoma though, and this weekend generally does seem to be a good time for announcements to occur. And today, they have.

In a joint press conference at both COTA and Sonoma, the projected, leading teams for both programs – the RealTime Racing team for Pirelli World Challenge and the Michael Shank Racing team for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – have been confirmed to run two Acura NSX GT3s apiece in their respective championships next season.

“The NSX was designed as a pinnacle expression of Acura Precision Crafted Performance, and we’re looking forward to proving its ultimate performance capabilities in GT3 competition,” said Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development, which will oversee the Acura Motorsports GT3 effort. “By continuing our longtime partnership with RealTime Racing in the Pirelli World Challenge and extending our association with Michael Shank Racing in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, we plan to build on Acura’s long tradition of success in North American sports car racing.”

“To say that we’re thrilled to be a part of the Acura Motorsports program in 2017 would be a massive understatement,” said MSR team owner Michael Shank. “This is a huge step forward in the development of our team, and we’re looking forward to working with HPD to add to Acura’s history of success in North American endurance racing.”

RealTime founder Peter Cunningham is enthused about continuing his team’s long-term relationship with Acura, including 14 victories in World Challenge competition with the first-generation NSX and winning the 1997 GT championship. “After personally being involved with the initial track testing and racing of the first generation Acura NSX 26 years ago, it is a great honor for my team and I to have this opportunity with the NSX GT3 program,” he said. “The new generation NSX is an incredible machine, and will be a great platform for RealTime and Acura to contend for the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge title.”

Drivers have not yet been confirmed but appear to be more or less set for 2017. There could be the potential of some crossover of drivers, per program development manager Lee Niffenegger, but nothing is set in stone.

Both teams are in action this weekend. Peter Kox substitutes for Spencer Pumpelly in RealTime’s Acura TLX-GT at Sonoma alongside Ryan Eversley; Pumpelly is on double duty in Austin this weekend (Lamborghini Huracán GT3 for Change Racing in GT Daytona and a Porsche Cayman for Rennsport One in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge ST class).

Given the Honda/Shank relationship that’s grown over two years in Shank’s LMP2 car, this move makes sense on a couple fronts. Ozz Negri and John Pew currently compete in the team’s Ligier JS P2 Honda.

Until today, while Acura had been descriptive about the NSX GT3 as a car, it hadn’t directly identified team names. But if you read the tea leaves you pretty much could have indicated where the car will be racing (almost certainly both major U.S. sports car series listed above) and with the respective teams.

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.”