MRTI: Grand Prix of Indianapolis preview notes

Milestone start for Piedrahita this weekend. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Here’s some quick notes heading into the Grand Prix of Indianapolis Presented by Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Supporting the Lupus Foundation of America, the second weekend of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires where all three rungs are in action and third overall for the MRTI this season.

Of note for all three series, the lubricant company will title all six rounds of competition at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 12 and 13. All races will be in support of the Lupus Foundation of America. May is Lupus Awareness Month; more information is available at the series website, linked here.

Also, starting this weekend and retroactive to the season-opening race in St. Petersburg, all race winners in the Mazda Road to Indy will be presented with special “rice spoon” (called a skakushi) decals for their cars from Mazda to acknowledge their accomplishments. The rice spoon is a talisman for good luck, victory, business prosperity and a safe household, and the characters on the spoon read “Certain Victory” and “Must Win.”

INDY LIGHTS

  • Herta won Indy Lights’ 400th race Sunday at Barber. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

    Top 5 in points: 1. Colton Herta, 101, 2. Kyle Kaiser, 85, 3. Nico Jamin, 75, 4. Aaron Telitz, 74, 5. Neil Alberico, 69

  • The 14-car entry list drops by one from the opening two rounds with Pato O’Ward not listed for this weekend at Team Pelfrey. O’Ward enters the weekend seventh in points with 58.
  • Juan Piedrahita makes his 100th Mazda Road to Indy start in Race 1 on Friday. Piedrahita, who’s spent nearly a decade in the ladder, has competed on all three rungs.
  • Recent past winners of IMS Road Course race: 2016-Ed Jones (Race 1), Dean Stoneman (Race 2), 2015-Jack Harvey (Race 1), Sean Rayhall (Race 2), 2014-Matthew Brabham (Race 1), Luiz Razia (Race 2)… also four different winners in four previous IMS road course races on old configuration from 2005 to 2007
  • DuraMAX Powered by RelaDyne will support Nico Jamin’s No. 27 Andretti Autosport Dallara IL-15 Mazda for both May races. The car takes on a new red, white and blue as a result. Jamin has won five of his six last race starts combined between IMSA’s Prototype Challenge series (LMP3 cars, both races at Sebring), Indy Lights (race one at Barber) and Pirelli World Challenge’s GTS class (both races at VIR) in the last month.
  • Andretti Autosport also announced an extension with technical supplier BIG KAISER, a high-precision tooling systems manufacturer, through 2017.
  • Oceanfront Recovery will be featured on the No. 22 Carlin Indy Lights entry of Neil Alberico for two races at the Indy Grand Prix road course and Freedom 100. Alberico resides in San Clemente, Calif, not far from Oceanfront Recovery’s premises in Laguna Beach, Calif.

PRO MAZDA

  • Top 5 in points: 1. Anthony Martin, 66, 2. Victor Franzoni, 50, 3. TJ Fischer, 44, 4. Nikita Lastochkin, 34, 5. Sting Ray Robb, 33
  • The 15-car entry list features one additional entrant versus St. Petersburg, Australian Steven Ford added in another National class entry as a fourth car at World Speed Motorsports.
  • Recent past winners of IMS Road Course race: 2016-Pato O’Ward (Races 1 and 2), 2015-Weiron Tan (Race 1, NOLA makeup), Timothe Buret (Race 2), Santiago Urrutia (Race 3), 2014-Scott Hargrove (Races 1 and 2)
  • TJ Fischer has been busy since St. Petersburg. The Team Pelfrey driver was a Team Captain in the American Lung Association in California’s 10th annual Fight For Air Climb on April 8 to raise funds and awareness for healthy lungs. The Fight For Air Climb is the only event in Los Angeles that challenges individuals and teams to ascend the entire height of the 858 foot skyscraper, the third tallest building in Los Angeles. The 23-year-old Vacaville, Calif. native led the #Race2TheRescue team to the top of the skyscraper, climbing 1,398 stairs and 63 stories, racing on behalf of Project O2’s #Race2TheRescue, an asthma awareness campaign. This raised more than $209,000.
  • The new Tatuus PM-18 Mazda had its first oval test at Iowa Speedway earlier this week with Aaron Telitz driving, marking the car’s first running on this circuit after road course running last month.

USF2000

  • Frederick (left) on Barber podium with Askew (center) and Parker Thompson (right). Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

    Top 5 in points: 1. Oliver Askew, 122, 2. Kaylen Frederick, 88, 3. Rinus van Kalmthout, 88, 4. Parker Thompson, 79, 5. Robert Megennis, 68

  • The 23-car field sees a handful of changes since Barber. In for their debuts are Callan O’Keeffe replacing Toby Sowery in the second BENIK entry with Jayson Clunie added in a fourth Exclusive Autosport entry. Newman Wachs Racing will only run one car for Dakota Dickerson; Andre Castro and Flinn Lazier will not continue.
  • Recent past winners of IMS Road Course race: 2016-Anthony Martin (Race 1), Parker Thompson (Race 2), 2015-Nico Jamin (Races 1 and 2), 2014-Will Owen (Race 1), Adrian Starrantino (Race 2)

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.”