Fittingly, Grosjean hits the career GP century mark in #Haastin

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Fittingly, Romain Grosjean’s 100th career Grand Prix start (101st entry) will come at Circuit of The Americas in Austin for the United States Grand Prix.

The Frenchman has never had a chance to race in a home Grand Prix, the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours having been knocked off the calendar after 2008, and with Grosjean not stepping up to F1 until 2009, and then returning in 2012.

But in his fifth full-time season and sixth overall, the Frenchman hits the century mark of Grand Prix starts at his team, Haas F1 Team’s, first home race since joining the grid this year.

“When I started in Formula One I thought it’ll just be one race after the other,” Grosjean reflected in the team’s pre-race advance.

“Then here we are at 100 Grands Prix, 10 podium finishes, a few points and lots of good memories, and some a little more difficult.”

That line speaks volumes about the career transformation Grosjean has had over that time.

He entered F1 under less than ideal circumstances with Renault in 2009, as a midseason replacement for the underperforming Nelson Piquet Jr. in a car that was less than ideal.

Come 2012, Grosjean was back full-time after a dominant run to the 2011 GP2 title. But even despite his first couple podiums, way too frequently he was in the headlines for incidents.

After causing the first turn pileup at that year’s Belgian Grand Prix, he received a one-race ban for the following Italian Grand Prix. After another dust-up with Mark Webber in Suzuka, the usually diplomatic but occasionally blustery Australian branded Grosjean a “first-lap nutcase.”

But in 2013, Grosjean was easily the most improved driver on the grid, scoring podiums at a rapid clip and very nearly winning his maiden Grand Prix on a couple occasions. Suzuka, in particular, stood out as an incredible drive despite ending third, as did Austin, where he secured his second career and most recent runner-up position. He ended a thus-far career best seventh in points with 132 points, which was up from eighth and 96 points a year earlier.

Grosjean fought through trying 2014 and 2015 seasons at Lotus but overachieved to score a podium in Belgium last year, site of his past indiscretion. All the while he maintained a largely positive public disposition, particularly in 2015 after losing out on quite a bit of running in first free practice to Jolyon Palmer.

This year, at Haas, Grosjean has blossomed even more as the star that the first-year team needed to spearhead its growth and development over its maiden campaign, along with teammate Esteban Gutierrez.

“The good thing is, I don’t know when I’m going to stop, but I think I’ve still got plenty of room in front of me to keep going and to keep trying to win,” he said. “Definitely 100 Grands Prix is quite something in my lifetime.

“For us, it couldn’t be better. I’m so proud to be part of this team and so proud to be able to bring the cars into Q3 in qualifying and bring points to the team. We’ve been working very hard and everyone is really giving 100 percent. It probably means more for us than other people.”

KANNAPOLIS, NC - SEPTEMBER 29:  (L-R) Gunther Steiner, team principal of Haas F1 Team, Romain Grosjean of France, and Gene Haas, owner of Haas F1 Team, pose for a photo opportunity after Haas F1 Team announced Grosjean as their driver for the upcoming 2016 Formula 1 season on September 29, 2015 in Kannapolis, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Stewart-Haas Racing via Getty Images)
KANNAPOLIS, NC – SEPTEMBER 29: (L-R) Gunther Steiner, team principal of Haas F1 Team, Romain Grosjean of France, and Gene Haas, owner of Haas F1 Team, pose for a photo opportunity after Haas F1 Team announced Grosjean as their driver for the upcoming 2016 Formula 1 season on September 29, 2015 in Kannapolis, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Stewart-Haas Racing via Getty Images)

Grosjean expanded on what the year at Haas has meant to him during a media session held Tuesday in Charlotte, Haas’ U.S. headquarters.

“I met Gene last September. We spoke for half an hour. We shook hands and the deal was done. I never regret it,” Grosjean said.

“I made a decision joining Haas. I knew it could be good or bad. But this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I can be the first driver to score the first point for a brand new team. Hopefully be on a podium one day wearing the Haas Automation colors. There is never a day where I woke up in the morning thinking I shouldn’t have done it. It’s a wonderful experience even though it is sometimes hard. But it’s great.”

MORE: One of a Kind: Gene Haas’ dream arrival into F1 history (NBC SportsWorld)

The start of the season bore great fruit for Grosjean, the famous sixth place at the team’s debut in Melbourne followed by an even better fifth place outing the next race in Bahrain. An eighth in Russia in the fourth round of the season only served to continue the momentum, with some 22 points achieved and a 75 percent scoring strike rate.

But with only one points score since, a seventh place at Austria in July, the early season results haven’t quite transferred. Brake issues have been the recent culprit, although things seemed to improve in Suzuka after rough outings in Singapore and Malaysia, most notably.

This is not for a lack of effort, but more owing to the reality of being a first-year team needing to learn the ropes at every Grand Prix.

“Yes,” Grosjean replied, without hesitation, when asked if the year was a success. “Coming to the first test with everything ready. Coming to the first race with everything ready and the cars being able to compete.

“Esteban had a crash with Fernando but we managed to score sixth and then the second race we did well. And then of course went through a more difficult time.

“But it wouldn’t have been normal not to go through that tough time and things wouldn’t have gone the normal way. Then we came back up, came back down and now I think we are now on an ascent, especially that we have to prepare for 2017 as well.

“There is a big change of regulation and the team swapped very early on to next year because the idea was to come to Formula One and then do better in year two and do better in year three. To achieve that as we put the bar higher, we needed to get all the resources working on the future project.”

Grosjean’s expectations haven’t changed per race, either. The Frenchman is determined not just to be finishing races, but winning them, or certainly achieving the maximum result possible.

That’s why an 11th in Suzuka was so frustrating – or as Grosjean termed it, “bloody annoying” – after both he and Esteban Gutierrez qualified in the top 10 for Haas in the same race for the first time; he felt it was one of the best races he’d ever driven, but came up empty from a points-scoring standpoint.

“I remember Sunday morning in Australia, I met Gene at breakfast and he told me, ‘Today, just go through Turn 1 and finish the race.’ In my mind, it was, ‘No, we want to finish the race but we want to go for it!’” Grosjean exclaimed.

“All the time, if I’m going to Austin this week, it’s because I want to do the best. I want to win the race. I know this is probably not going to happen because we don’t have the best car.

“If I am a competitor, it is to beat everyone else. I’ve never been to a grand prix thinking, “I’m just going to finish the race.”

“There’s no (expletive) way.”

Additional reporting from NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan in Charlotte. Look for more from Grosjean, Gutierrez and the Haas F1 Team with Nate later this week on NBCSports.com.


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.”