Alonso’s second day at Indy ‘happier than the first day’

Like a sponge, Alonso soaks up information. Photo: IndyCar
1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Fernando Alonso’s had quite a 24-to-48-hour period.

He’s gone from qualifying in seventh place for the Spanish Grand Prix to finally finishing his first race of the season a day later, to then flying to Indianapolis and beginning the now two-week odyssey in this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

And as for how long it took to re-acclimate from his McLaren Honda Formula 1 chassis to his No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti IndyCar?

“It took one corner,” Alonso deadpanned, to a media center full of amused onlookers.

Alonso only completed 55 laps today – 35 in the two-hour Rookie Orientation Program/refresher program and 20 in the afternoon session – and later explained that he was not able to complete his full program owing to rear suspension issues. He ran more than 100 in his first day in the car on May 3.

That meant that in “happy hour” – the last hour of practice where conditions start to cool and are generally ideal for race preparation – Alonso’s car was back in the garage and he was unable to get much running in traffic.

Nonetheless, lack of traffic running aside, Alonso said that knowing what to expect from his Dallara DW12 chassis and Honda aero kit and power unit was comforting on a day when conditions were different.

It was significantly warmer today than it was on May 3, by more than 20 degrees ambient and similar range in track temperatures. It was also windier today.

Alonso prepares for an early run. Photo: IndyCar

Alonso explained the differences.

“I was a little bit concerned about the conditions, about the temperature, much hotter today than the test we did here on the 3rd. But no, the car felt good, felt as good as in the test, and I was able to make some setup changes, yeah, without, as I said, losing the confidence in the car. Everything went very smooth,” Alonso said.

“The last half an hour maybe we had some issues with the rear suspension, and we could not complete the program that we was planning to run a little bit in traffic at the end of the day, so we missed that part, but overall it was an amazing day.

“Happier than the first day with the car because I was able to feel some of the setup changes that we were planning in the morning, and yeah, I feel good.

“Not much running in traffic, so still the thing that I need to go through in the next couple of days, so that is something we need to chase tomorrow in the program. But I did two or three laps behind some cars that were going out of pit lane, and it was good fun, so I’m looking forward, and running along is enough.”

Despite the long travels to Indianapolis, and then meeting fans at both the airport and outside his garage in Gasoline Alley, Alonso was immediately reacquainted with his IndyCar once he was back behind the wheel.

“You jump in the car, you are in that sitting position that is different compared to Formula 1. You have this headrest that you have the padding here, so you have no movement at all to look right, left.

“You just remind yourself exactly what you were driving two weeks ago, so you go flat out and you know what is going to happen. So it took really no time to switch on from one to another.”

Alonso also had time to debrief with Mario Andretti, and what was originally just a quick chat then turned into more than an hour worth of conversation.

“Yeah, well, he went to the pit lane just to say hello, but he was — he knew that we were testing at that point, so it was just a formal hello,” Alonso said.

“But later in the garage, lunchtime, we were talking for more than one hour and a half, so we went through many, many things, from Formula 1 to talk about the tires here, how they perform, to talk about the tires in Formula 1.

“We were talking about the two-seater that he will run on Monday he said, and he’s preparing that run in a proper way, so if I was one of the guests, I will be worried because he will push to the limit that car!

“He’s an amazing person and a true legend in motorsports, so every comment, every word that he says is obviously very, very important for all of us, and inside the team we are extremely proud and happy to work with him.”

Lastly, Alonso seems set to focus on race setup this week, and whether he qualifies higher up the grid or not is not as important as ensuring he has the best possible car in traffic for the race.

“Yeah, it’s completely right. I think in my case, qualifying is not very important,” he said. “Obviously, you know, when you are out there, you want to be fast. You want to feel fast, as well, so it’s a question of enjoyment, not only the position, the final position.

“But yeah, I think all the priority for us in my garage is to set up the car for the race, to feel comfortable in traffic, to learn as much as I can, you know, the way to overtake, the place to overtake, how you lose the minimum time possible in those maneuvers.”

Alonso remains humble to the task as he continues the learning process.

“You know, many things that I don’t know now and I need to learn quickly. So yeah, let’s see what we can do in qualifying, but definitely the race preparation will be the first priority.”

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
0 Comments

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.”