Quartet of youngsters get key running Tuesday in Bahrain

Giovinazzi among four young drivers that ran in Bahrain on Tuesday. Photo: Getty Images
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One of the joys of in-season testing for Formula 1 is that teams will opt to run young drivers, either their reserve or test/development drivers, during these occasions. That gives a bit of variety as opposed to just writing about the 20 primary race drivers.

It was an interesting day for the four youngsters afforded that opportunity today in the first of two days for the Bahrain in-season test.

Antonio Giovinazzi was still eligible by way of only competing in the first two Grands Prix as a fill-in for Pascal Wehrlein at Sauber, with Wehrlein confirming his fitness wasn’t up to scratch but then exceeding expectations in a good drive in Sunday’s Grand Prix.

Importantly for Giovinazzi, getting a day back in the new Ferrari SF70H was key after his nightmare second weekend in China, when he crashed both in qualifying and the race. He ran 93 laps and finished second on the timesheets with a best time of 1:31.984.

“I enjoyed every single lap,” Giovinazzi said, via the Ferrari website. “To drive the car that won the last race and is leading the world championship, working with the Scuderia Ferrari engineers and mechanics, is not just a great feeling, it’s a dream I’ve had since I was little and racing in karts. And today it came true.”

Down at Toro Rosso, Indonesian driver Sean Gelael had his first day in the Renault-powered but as yet unbadged engine car. The Formula 2 veteran, who’s also dovetailed a bit in sports car racing with his Jagonya Ayam branding (Indonesian KFC), had his first day in an F1 car. He did 78 laps and posted a best time of 1:33.885; he’ll return in Hungary later this year.

“Today is a day I will never forget – to finally drive a Formula 1 car is something every driver dreams of, and to do it with Scuderia Toro Rosso makes it even more special,” he said. “What an amazing feeling! This year’s car is a beast, it’s so quick! I settled in nicely throughout the day and we definitely made progress. I was able to complete plenty of laps and get used to the car quickly.

“The power and overall grip is amazing and, compared to the Formula 2 car I drive, the grip under braking and the kerb riding are two of the biggest differences I felt. Honestly, it’s really fun to drive and I’d like to thank everyone who made this possible! I now can’t wait to drive the STR12 again in a few months’ time at the test in Hungary.”

Sahara Force India test driver Alfonso Celis Jr. had yet another day in the car. The Mexican driver has run a handful of FP1 sessions and today ran 71 laps with a best time of 1:33.939.

“It was a straightforward day for me and I completed more than a race distance,” he said. “There have been a lot of changes since I last was in the car in Barcelona and the first few laps were a bit of a learning process. Fortunately the aero program at the start of the day gave me some time to get used to the car again.

“We were able to complete some performance runs in the afternoon, but I ran into traffic each time so I couldn’t really take everything out of the car. The temperatures out there were much hotter than I’ve ever experienced on these tyres and it was useful for me to understand how to manage and look after them. All in all, I felt pretty comfortable in the car and I am happy with my performance.”

The going wasn’t so good for Oliver Turvey, McLaren’s test and development driver, in his first day in the car this year. A power unit change was again needed for his McLaren Honda, which provided the Englishman a firsthand look at the struggles faced by the team this season for its two full-season drivers, Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Nonetheless after the change, the team rallied to complete another 17 laps.

Turvey has been a McLaren regular over the years but this marked his first time actually in a car in two years. He competes regularly in the FIA Formula E Championship.

“I’ve been looking forward to getting back in the car – it’s been two years since I last tested – so I’m really grateful to McLaren-Honda for giving me the opportunity to drive here in Bahrain. It’s frustrating to have had an issue this morning which cost us a lot of track time, but, for me, every lap in a Formula 1 car is beneficial and it was great to be back in the car,” he said in the team release.

“I got a few laps in at the end of the day and managed to get enough of a feel for what the car is like to be able to go back to MTC and contribute to the correlation between the car and simulator, which hopefully will help with the development back in the factory. I do a lot of work in the simulator so being able to correlate between there and the track is really important. I still feel we achieved something today despite the limited running.

“The guys have been working extremely hard in the garage and I want to say thanks to them for helping me to get back out on track. Today for me was about getting a feeling for how the whole package – car and tires – works together. This is my eighth season with the team as a test driver, and I last drove for McLaren-Honda in 2015, so the car feels completely different. It’s hard to compare from year to year, but any time and knowledge I can pick up from my time in the car is important Tomorrow I’m keen to follow Stoffel’s program, as I think it will be really useful.”

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.”