MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Daniel Ricciardo is confident his Red Bull is faster than the car he drove to third place in the Formula One drivers’ championship last season.
Whether it’s fast enough to catch the Mercedes entries, he says, only time will tell.
Ricciardo is back in Melbourne for Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix, where F1 rule changes requiring wider tires, greater aerodynamics, bigger fuel loads and increased downforce are expected to make the heavier cars significantly faster than previous years.
Nico Rosberg won the Australian GP last year, and held off Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton for the 2016 title. Rosberg’s retirement leaves Hamilton the favorite to win a fourth F1 championship.
Ricciardo is expected to again be among the leading contenders, and he’s back on his home track feeling content with progress over the off-season. He placed fourth in Melbourne last year, but improved during the season and won the Malaysian GP, got his first pole position and picked up seven other podium finishes.
The 27-year-old Australian said winter testing at Red Bull, alongside teammate Max Verstappen, had been the best he’d been involved with. He said he was less than a half second behind the Mercedes.
“Testing is never really a clear picture. I expect Ferrari and Mercedes to be quick and I hope we can be with them as well,” he said. “We’re coming here pretty confident.”
The newly developed F1 cars have tires which are 25 percent wider, have more grip and – crucially – are more durable, enabling drivers to push harder and limiting the cyclical pit stop strategy that made many races easy to call.
Ricciardo produced the fastest lap in the 2016 Australian GP and predicts his new Red Bull vehicle is 40 kph (25 mph) faster through corners.
“We’ve gone from 220 (137 mph) to 260 (162 mph), so that’s a big difference and that’s more fun for sure,” he said. “I think as a spectator now when you’re paying money to see a race and you see us corner at these speeds, you’re getting more for your money as well.”
Forecast rain may slow the cars down, though, with showers expected on Saturday for the qualifying and Sunday during the GP. The first practice sessions are set for Friday.
Australian race fans, who flock to the Albert Park street circuit in their tens of thousands, are hoping to see the Ricciardo’s now famous Shoey, where he celebrates success by drinking from his racing boot.
Ricciardo is hoping there’ll be plenty of Shoey shows in 2017, saying his aim is to be the world champion and he’ll be doing everything he can to make it happen this year.
Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series
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.
“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].”
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.”
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.”