PWC: New lease on life in Daniel Morad’s ‘State of Moradness’

Morad (left) and Dalziel (right). Photo: PWC
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As he prepares to race in the Pirelli World Challenge SprintX races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this weekend, it’s a welcome relief for 27-year-old Toronto native Daniel Morad that he’s rolling with opportunities that a few years ago seemed remote at best.

Morad and fellow open-wheel convert Ryan Dalziel share the No. 2 CRP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT Pro/Pro division of the championship, which are 60-minute races with a mandatory driver stop.

How Morad even got the ride was a bit surprising to begin with – he beat out numerous talented others in consideration – and then he beat one of Mercedes, and sports car racing’s most talented drivers in Jeroen Bleekemolen in identical equipment to secure his first win in his first weekend.

Photo: PWC

“CRP and I had talked for months; Ron Fellows had recommended me to the team after Daytona,” Morad told NBC Sports. “I told Nick Short, the team owner, I was so prepared to do my best if I got the job. We’d had about two hours worth of talking and that was all we went on, but it must have been a good impression!

“Between Ron endorsing me and Dave Empringham also having a say, I got the call Friday before the race and it was ‘Hey, the ride’s yours.’

“So I get announced Monday on my birthday… then Tuesday or Wednesday I’m already doing media with the car, having not driven it! It was pretty cool the fact my name was on top of the car.”

Morad and Dalziel were unfortunate to lose a win in the first SprintX race of the weekend, owing to a pit lane timing infraction that also caught six other GT class cars out.

As a recompense because of confusion about how so many teams were caught out by the 60-second combined pit lane time between the 30-second mandatory pit stop time and additional 30-seconds on pit lane, PWC series officials added a two-second joker time to ensure there wouldn’t be infractions in the second race.

“Saturday for us was strange and disjointed,” Morad explained. “Initially the pro/pro class was going to have an open pit time, and that would have been a bit dangerous if some teams did 25-second stops versus 15 seconds – you’ll never make that up.

“And some cars are easier to get in and out of than others. Bentley, for instance, is right-hand drive so it can go straight in. The Ferrari looked easy. Cadillac? They had to take the wheel off. For us it’s a tight greenhouse and entry point. The Porsche, by contrast, had a sliding seat. So since every car is unique, the only way to police it was a 30-second pit stop plus a 30-second delta. But it only took 23 for the pit lane!

“On Saturday, we had an 11-second lead before a safety car. I started opening up the gap to (Jorg) Bergmeister, then we had a drive-through because we didn’t stop long enough… and so did seven or eight other cars. It was heat of the moment and without a proper system yet determined, it ruined a lot of team’s races.”

Morad bounced back in a big way on Sunday with a star drive as he led Bleekemolen and the rest of the field in his stint.

Pirelli World Challenge, Virginia International Raceway, Allton, VA, April 2017. (Photo by Brian Cleary/bcpix.com)

“Sunday we rectified by winning convincingly,” he said. “I had a few tenths in the bag if not more (over Jeroen). Our car was so hooked up that day! Not only is the platform is great but balance is perfect. Jeroen was pushing really hard and I was not… so it looked closer than it was.

“For me personally it was a great chance to show that I can drive as well as anyone could out there. I was managing my tires, I drove the pace I needed to drive and to give Ryan the best car. I didn’t want to burn the tires before a safety car. I left everyone by 1.5 seconds afterwards. That’s what I wanted to say; the best way to silence any critics is to put the right foot down.”

Morad and Dalziel come from similar backgrounds in that they were talents on the open-wheel ladder before shifting to sports cars. Morad’s was a circuitous route after winning the 2007 Formula BMW Americas championship – ahead of Esteban Gutierrez and Alexander Rossi among others – through GP3, Atlantics, A1GP (below, in 2009) and Indy Lights, but timing and budget never presented itself for more.

TAUPO, NEW ZEALAND – JANUARY 24: Daniel Morad of Lebanon in action during the third official prctice session for the New Zealand A1 Grand Prix at the Taupo Race Track January 24, 2009 in Taupo, New Zealand. (Photo by Ross Land/Getty Images)

Dalziel’s timing was similar. Talented enough to make it to Champ Car, Dalziel won races in Atlantics for several years but again fell victim to timing more than anything. So Morad always witnessed Dalziel’s development and success on track, but only has gotten to know him recently.

“Ryan is such a good teammate,” Morad said of the Florida-based Scot. “We’d crossed paths in the past but I’d never rally spoken to Ryan. He’s not much older – he’s 35 to my 27 – so he’s 8 years older.

“But it’s enough to the point, when he was in Champ Car, I was in FBMW. He did a really good job.

“I really respected him. When I heard I’d potentially drive with him I was stoked; you want to drive with the best and learn as much as you can. Ryan is one of the best out there. He’s such a good ambassador of the sport. He welcomed me with open arms, and he didn’t make me feel an outsider. You can see why he’s one of the best in the sport.”

On the whole, it was a call from Carlos de Quesada that Morad him back from the brink after a roughly four-year hiatus from racing and provided him an opportunity to race Porsches, where Morad has since starred. Between championships in single-make Porsche Cup series and a win at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona with a Porsche 911 GT3 R, Morad has been the driver that de Quesada has built his team around.

Morad’s season is IMSA is evolving on a race-to-race basis – the team plans to race for at least another couple events before determining whether it can grow into a full season – but in PWC, he’s set for the four remaining SprintX weekends with Dalziel.

Coming to CTMP this weekend, it’s a chance for him to race on home soil. Morad has hailed Fellows and Empringham as mentors among others, and now he’s also joined his open-wheel rising stars James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens in making it years later after coming up through the ranks.

“Ron Fellows has been one of the biggest mentors for me,” he explained. “He guided me in Formula BMW and helped to suggest the sports car stuff in GT3 Cup. Scott Goodyear as well has been amazing. I worked with him at the Audi driving experience (in Canada); he was chief driving instructor. I learned more from him off the track, in how to be a professional; he’s the ultimate professional. He’s so polished.

“As Canadians, we’re all such a tight-knit community. We all stay in touch.

“Hinch and I are friends. Wickens and I though, it’s funny, we’ve grown up racing each other since we were 9. We had sleepovers when we were kids! He was in Guelph, an hour and a bit from Toronto. He’d play EA Sports NASCAR games or play hockey in the winter… because it’s Canada. We still stay in touch; I watch his DTM races when I can.”

And then there’s Morad’s other emerging passion – he’s a DJ, and quickly becoming better known for that along with his driving within the sports car paddock.

What started as a quick 10-hat pre-run at Daytona, wearing a standard hat with a stylized “M” logo, has now grown into a new brand to coincide with the DJ tracks he puts together on Soundcloud, after those 10 sold out quickly. There’s now more styles to the hat. Morad credits his girlfriend for her work ethic and dedication and helping this side of his career grow.

Morad joins Giancarlo Fisichella and Raul Boesel among other notable drivers who’ve added this component of work to their day jobs, and explained the inspiration.

“I started DJing when I was 19, as I got into it through a friend,” Morad explained. “It’s funny because I don’t like the party scene per se – or crowds – people stepping on foot or drinks!

“But DJing is such a thrill. There’s a lot of pressure to perform. If you don’t perform… the whole night revolves around you. But if you don’t do a good job, the night’s bad for people. I like the challenge of making a good show.”

For Morad on track though, making a good show has been one of the fun story lines to watch in the sports car world in 2017, and he’ll look to keep it rolling on home soil this weekend.

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.”