Toyota, Alonso take 24 Hours of Le Mans victory, Porsche dominates GTE

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The 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans was as heartbreaking a finish as there ever has been in any racing event, with Kaz Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi, and Anthony Davidson coming up just short after their No. 5 Toyota TS050 ground to a halt as it took the white flag.

This year, it was a case of triumphant redemption for the Japanese marque and team, Toyota Gazoo Racing, with Nakajima and Buemi taking an overdue win, and Fernando Alonso scoring victory in the second leg of the “triple crown” (the Monaco Grand Prix – a race he’s won twice – the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Indianapolis 500).

The trio’s No. 8 entry battled hard with the sister No. 7, in the hands of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, and José María López, with the two cars trading the lead multiple times in the first 12 hours.

However, fortunes turned in the favor of the No. 8 in the overnight hours, with Alonso turning in a blistering pace to slash the gap separating the two down to 30 seconds – it had grown to around two minutes – followed by Nakajima continuing the same pace to put the No. 8 car back into the lead.

Buemi then followed suit to build up a healthy lead for the No. 8, while the No. 7 encountered late-race problems that hampered their challenge. Specifically, Lopez spun in the Dunlop chicane, and then Koboyashi was hit with a pair of stop-and-go penalties for a somewhat bizarre incident in which he missed pit entry for a routine stop.

In doing so, it meant Koboyashi both exceeded the permitted amount of fuel use and exceeded the maximum number of laps required between stops – he was forced to do separate stop-and-go penalties for those infractions, dropping him a lap off the leading No. 8, in the hands of Nakajima.

In the end, though, both Toyotas proved fast and reliable, and they finished 1-2 to give Toyota its first Le Mans triumph, and redemption for their 2016 heartbreak. It’s particularly redemptive for Nakajima and Buemi, who were a part of the driving lineup that year, with Nakajima driving the car at the time when it failed.

The team had Nakajima in the car to finish the 2018 race, giving him an extra piece of personal redemption as well.

Rebellion Racing rounded out the LMP1 and overall podium, with Thomas Laurent, Mathias Beche, and Gustavo Menezes piloting the No. 3 R13-Gibson to third.

In LMP2, G-Drive Racing dominated much of the way, with Roman Rusinov, Jean-Eric Vergne, and Andrea Pizzitola taking a class victory by over two laps in their Oreca 07-Gibson, ahead of the Signatech Alpine No. 36 A470-Gibson, in the hands of Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao, and Pierre Thiriet.

For Vergne, who finished the race for G-Drive, it continues a supreme year that also sees him lead the ABB FIA Formula E Championship with one round remaining.

Graff-SO24 finished third in LMP2, with Vincent Capaillaire, Tristan Gommendy, and Jonathan Hirschi rounding out the podium in the No. 39 Oreca.

In GTE, Porsche dominated both the Pro and Am classes. The Nos. 92 and 91 Porsche 911 RSRs, FIA World Endurance Championship entrants for Porsche’s factory team, scored a 1-2 for the German marque as they celebrated their 70th anniversary – both cars featured classic Porsche liveries, with the No. 92 in the “Pink Pig” livery, and the No. 91 in the Rothmans livery.

Gianmaria Bruni, Richard Lietz, and Frederic Makowiecki claimed the victory in the No. 92, followed by Michael Christensen, Kevin Estre, and Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 91.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing finished third with the No. 68 Ford GT, the best class result for any team from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, in the hands of Sebastien Bourdais, Dirk Muller, and Joey Hand.

In GTE-Am,the Patrick Dempsey co-owned Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche took the victory, with Christian Ried, Matt Campbell, and Julien Andlauer enjoying a faultless race that saw them lead most of the way in their No. 77 Porsche.

The Spirit of Race No. 54 Ferrari 488 GTE finished second in the hands of Giancarlo Fisichella, Francesco Castellacci, and Thomas Flohr, while IMSA’s Keating Motorsports finished third, with Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, and Luca Stolz rounding out the podium in the No. 85 Ferrari.

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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.”