F1 Preview: 2017 Canadian Grand Prix

Pirelli
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With the opening leg of European rounds on the 2017 calendar now out of the way, this weekend sees Formula 1 venture to North America for the first time this season for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

Sebastian Vettel arrives in Canada with a healthy 25-point advantage at the top of the drivers’ championship following his victory in Monaco two weeks ago, where he led Ferrari to its first one-two finish in almost seven years.

Monaco proved to be a tougher weekend for his title rival, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who suffer a shock knock-out at the second stage of qualifying. Although the Briton was able to recover to seventh in the race, he was powerless to stop Vettel taking the biggest lead yet in their title battle.

The Canadian Grand Prix rarely disappoints. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has a knack for producing the unexpected, and the city of Montreal embraces F1 with a warmth that few other locations on the calendar can match.

2017 Canadian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Vettel out to extend championship lead

Sebastian Vettel’s flying start to the season has seen him take three race wins and three second-place finishes from the opening six rounds, enjoying the kind of form reminiscent of his Red Bull title-winning days.

The German’s march for a fifth world championship – and, more poignantly, first in Ferrari colors – has been impressive thus far. The results have done much to break the hoodoo that has seemed to blight the Scuderia in recent times, with Vettel’s Monaco victory being Ferrari’s first since 2001.

Another drought could end this weekend, with Ferrari having not won in Canada since Michael Schumacher’s victory in 2004. If Vettel can hit the top step once again – particularly given the Mercedes’ line-up’s strength in Montreal – it would be another signal that Ferrari is in charge of this title battle.

Can Mercedes’ Montreal specialists win?

Mercedes’ Monaco showing was pretty miserable. To get neither car on the podium despite both finishing has been a rare occurrence for the Silver Arrows in the V6 hybrid era, making a response in Canada this weekend all the more important.

Luckily for Mercedes, it has two of the strongest drivers around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Valtteri Bottas finished third in each of the last two years for Williams, and famously charged to third on the grid in 2013 in the wet.

The real favorite will be Lewis Hamilton, though. The three-time champion took his maiden F1 win in Montreal back in 2007, and has since taken another four, putting him second only to Schumacher for Canadian Grand Prix victories.

Mercedes may not have the quickest car in Montreal, but you’d be hard-pressed to find two drivers more suited to this circuit.

Back to the grind for Fernando

Fernando Alonso will make his F1 return this weekend following his Indianapolis 500 adventure. It was a story that captured the attention of the racing world, acting as a rare slice of good news for the struggling McLaren-Honda partnership, even if Alonso did end up retiring from the race due to an engine failure.

But the Spaniard will now return to the stark reality of his current F1 standing. With a power unit that lacks both reliability and performance, he will not be dicing for the lead as he was at IMS. Points – hell, not even plural, a point – would be a big breakthrough for McLaren, the team having not scored a single one thus far in 2017.

Alonso will be encouraged by the evident step we saw from McLaren in Monaco (albeit partly down to the circuit), and given his hurculean habit of dragging the car further up the order than in rightfully be, points are not totally out of the question in Canada. That said, the power-hungry nature of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and the absence of the promised Honda updates doesn’t make it a favorable outlook.

Tires to be testing once again

The big debate following last month’s Monaco Grand Prix was tire management, with Pirelli’s softest compound selection once again causing trouble for some teams in Monaco. Mercedes’ woes with the ultra-soft have been particularly clear this year, with Hamilton unable to get to grips – quite literally – with the tires last time out.

The same tire selection is on tap for Montreal, and given last year’s race was won by Hamilton with just one pit stop, one would expect that strategy to be the way to go once again, particularly with the added durability of the 2017-spec tires. Managing them will be the key to victory, and perhaps the decisive factor between Hamilton and Vettel once again.

Hopefully we’ll have more overtaking than we got in Monaco, with the long back straight and DRS zone giving drivers plenty of chances to close up and make a pass.

Will Stroll’s homecoming yield maiden points?

Lance Stroll will end an 11-year drought on Sunday when he becomes the first Canadian driver to start his home F1 race since Jacques Villeneuve last appeared in 2006.

Stroll, 18, stepped up to F1 at the beginning of the season with Williams, but has experienced a baptism of fire. After failing to finish any of his first three races, Stroll managed to get to the finish in Russia, ending up 11th. Further classified finishes have followed, yet he is still without points despite the evident quality of the Williams FW40 car.

At the track named after Canada’s greatest F1 talent, Gilles Villeneuve, Stroll will aim to become just the third Canadian to score points – and the first whose surname is not above the door of the circuit.

2017 Canadian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
Corners: 14
Lap Record: Rubens Barrichello 1:13.622 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Ultra-Soft/Super-Soft/Soft
2016 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:12.812
2016 Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:15.599
DRS Zone: T12 to T13, T14 to T1

2017 Canadian Grand Prix – TV/Stream Times

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.”