Petit Le Mans eclipses halfway mark in eventful race thus far

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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BRASELTON, Ga. – The 20th annual Motul Petit Le Mans has eclipsed the five-hour mark, with seven full-course cautions thus far and a roller coaster race in three of the four classes.

At the five-hour mark, Dane Cameron leads overall in his final start in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R, before he moves to Team Penske. The race is through 197 laps and Cameron holds a 1.341-second lead over Filipe Albuquerque, his teammate at Action Express Racing in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac, who will be one of two new full-season drivers there next year.

Other class leaders include Kyle Masson (No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca FLM09, PC), Giancarlo Fisichella (No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE, GTLM) and Mark Wilkins (No. 93 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3, GTD).

Before the halfway mark, the first points in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup were awarded at Hour 4 (full results by class and overall here) And the top three in those classes were:

  • P: 1-22-Nissan Onroak DPi, 2-5-Cadillac DPi-V.R, 3-90-Ligier JS P217 Gibson
  • PC: 1-38-Performance Tech, 2-20-BAR1, 3-26-BAR1
  • GTLM: 1-25-BMW M6 GTLM, 2-911-Porsche 911 RSR, 3-912-Porsche 911 RSR
  • GTD: 1-93-Acura NSX GT3, 2-96-BMW M6 GT3, 3-33-Mercedes-AMG GT3

Other hourly results are linked here: Official Grid, Hour 1, Hour 2, Hour 3

Here’s some notes thus far:

PENSKE’S FIRST HOUR INCIDENT, RECOVERY

We broke this out separately, but the race for the No. 6 Team Penske Oreca 07 Gibson – which started on pole – was compromised almost from the start once Matteo Cressoni lost control of his No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 and pitched Helio Castroneves into a spin at Turn 10, and caused his car rear bodywork damage.

“Well, no. Obviously I’m not happy with it,” Castroneves said. “We got a good welcome to the sports car series but you know, we’re learning. I definitely expect the pace. The car changed a little bit from what we had in practice, I’m not sure what it is. It was much looser than I was expecting. I certainly was finally able to run with some DPi’s together. It was very difficult, to learn to deal with traffic is going to be a long learning curve, for sure.”

In the third hour of the race, during a full-course caution, the car stayed out to take a wave-by and get back on the lead lap. Into the fifth hour, Juan Pablo Montoya has taken the wheel of the car and sits third, only two seconds off the overall lead held by Johannes van Overbeek in the No. 22 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi and with Filipe Albquerque second in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

That lead for the Nissan was short-lived following a storming series of laps from Gustavo Menezes, an LMP2 race winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and in the FIA World Endurance Championship, and in his first start in the festively liveried No. 13 Rebellion Racing Oreca 07 Gibson.

TITLES CLINCHED

Fortunately for the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R and No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 teams in Prototype and GT Daytona, they’ve clinched the titles by taking the green flag. Because neither car’s race went according to plan.

Cressoni, as noted, had damage from his incident with Castroneves in the first hour, which has left Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan playing catch-up the rest of the day and outside the top-10 in class. In the fifth hour, the car slowed on the backstraight and brought out the seventh full-course caution of the race. IMSA Radio reported in the car had a broken axle.

Meanwhile the day ended early for the Taylor group when Ryan Hunter-Reay, the third driver with brothers Jordan and Ricky Taylor, reported in a loss of power on Lap 98 on just his third lap in the car. It’s the team’s first major mechanical failure since the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2012!

“I’m not really sure what happened. It sounds like some kind of technical call in the engine. We had to park the car and pull from the race,” said team owner Wayne Taylor.

The same story – taking the green to take the championship – applied to Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia in GT Le Mans in their No. 3 Corvette C7.R.

A PIT FIRE AND AN AERIAL ATTACK

Two scary moments happened back-to-back in Hour 2. Gianmaria Bruni’s No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR sustained a fire in pit lane. He exited the car and a Porsche GT Team crewmember was fortunately uninjured in the conflagration, returning to action in a new suit.

Jose Gutierrez was also checked, cleared and released following his No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson going airborne at Turn 5. The car was mounted vertically after going into the tire barriers and scaling them.

OTHER NOTES

  • Most IndyCar drivers entered in the race got the chance to drive by Hour 5. Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais got in the pair of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GTs, while by this point in the race all three of the Team Penske drivers had cycled through its car and Hunter-Reay was in the No. 10 Cadillac. NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell, who told us he’d lost a dozen pounds in training for this race, has also regularly been in the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Audi R8 LMS as that car’s lead pro driver.
  • Contact occurred between Scott Sharp’s No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi and Chris Miller’s No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, Miller tagging the back of Sharp’s car going into Turn 10 and receiving a penalty afterwards for triggering avoidable contact.
  • Tommy Milner’s No. 4 Corvette C7.R got tagged by one of the Ford GTs in the Esses but recovered.
  • Three cars – the No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 (Ozz Negri), No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Kenny Habul) and No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 (Austin Cindric) – have hit trackside signage, the first two WeatherTech barriers and then Cindric a Michelin barrier exiting Turn 12. Cindric was trying to make way for the Penske Oreca to lap him on the inside.
  • The No. 86 Acura lost time with its splitter getting replaced, continuing the luckless season for Negri, Jeff Segal and Tom Dyer, now in a gold and black livery signed by fans this weekend, per a Shank tradition continuing.
  • The No. 24 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM, in that car’s last race, lost 10 laps behind the wall with power steering issues. John Edwards and Martin Tomczyk won’t be able to follow-up its win last race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, now co-driving with Nicky Catsburg.
  • A rear suspension issue halted Lawson Aschenbach in the final race for Stevenson Motorsports, in the No. 57 Audi R8 LMS.
  • What had been a contending car in GTD, the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, went behind the wall in the fifth hour. Jens Klingmann, Jesse Krohn and Justin Marks share that car. Per IMSA Radio, a bad turbo sensor sent them behind the barriers.
  • A nightmare weekend for WeatherTech Racing with its No. 50 Porsche 911 GT3 R came to an early end with a gearbox issue. “We lost a QD system, which is a quick disconnect on the water system,” Greg Jones, WeatherTeam Racing Team engineer said. “This system actually cools the gearbox. The QD failed and we have a restriction to the water flow to the gearbox. Therefore, overheating it. If we had continued, it would have blown the gearbox up. It wouldn’t have been good. This is a tough way to go out.”

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.”