Sam Schmidt addresses decision to replace Hinchcliffe; Wickens status with IndyCar team

INDYCAR Photo by Stephen King
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Sam Schmidt confirmed that James Hinchcliffe remains under contract to Arrow McLaren Racing SP but will not be driving for the team in 2020. He also said the popular 31-year-old driver from Canada is free to negotiate a deal with another team in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Schmidt, who merged his Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team with McLaren with the new operation beginning competition next season, also said Robert Wickens remains part of the team as a “driver coach and consultant.” Wickens continues to recover from spinal injuries that have left him with partial use of his legs but continues to make impressive progress in his recovery and rehabilitation.

Schmidt also said Arrow McLaren Racing SP plans to enter a third car in next year’s Indianapolis 500, but there is no agreement or plan in place at this time for two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso to be in that car.

“It certainly remains an option, but nothing’s been confirmed,” Schmidt said Wednesday. “We absolutely have had a history of 12 years of running a third car at Indy and still plan to do that and Fernando remains an option but nothing’s confirmed.”

Should Wickens ever fully recover to resume racing, Schmidt said the No. 6 Chevrolet will be available to him to race.

“I think Robert continues to inspire and motivate and just amaze everybody on a daily basis,” Schmidt said. “Because he’s continuing the program, he’s continuing to improve, he is a part of the team as a driver coaching consultant and will continue.

“And I think that’s one of the major assets we have that Oliver Askew was talking about in that he will be there at a majority of the races next year assisting these young guys to get acclimated as quick as they can.

“So he’s part of the team, but also he’s got a major focus on his rehabilitation and he’s hell bent on driving again and I wouldn’t bet against him.”

While that prospect remains a long way into the future, Hinchcliffe has lost his ride. It was officially announced on Wednesday Arrow McLaren Racing SP that 20-year-old Pato O’Ward of Mexico and 22-year-old Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida would be the team’s drivers in 2020.

“I think Ric (Peterson, one of the owners of the race team) and I would say that this is one of the toughest decisions we have had to make since we have been team owners, because I personally have known James, Jeremy, Arlene, his brother Chris for 11 years and love him,” Schmidt responded to a question posed to him by NBC Sports.com. “And I really appreciate what he’s done for the team, tremendous, tremendous investor in the sport and our brand and everything else.

“I’s a gut wrenching decision, but we were faced with an opportunity to pick up these two young guns coming out of Indy Lights that already have 13-, 14-, 15-years’ worth of experience and it was just an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up.

“Everything’s amicable, I have all the faith in the world that James is going to wind up in a full-time ride and Ric and I are fully supportive of that. It’s just a competitive environment and for our partners and everything else that we’re — everybody, it was a group decision, we got an opportunity in front of us, we got to take it, we want to go win races.”

In theory, Hinchcliffe could sit back for a year and collect his paycheck from the team, but Schmidt doesn’t believe that will happen.

“What’s to stop him is the race driver within him,” Schmidt said. “I think as Gil de Ferran (McLaren Sporting Director), myself, anybody else on the line that’s a driver, you want to drive, you want to prove, you want to win the Indy 500, you still got boxes to check.

“I have no doubt that he and his team are burning up the phone lines and talking with everybody out there, in any series but primarily Indy Car. He’s still young, he still wants to win races, so I think that’s what’s to stop him from doing it.

“Certainly, it’s his option, but I don’t think you’ll see him do that.”

NBC Sports.com reported on Tuesday that NTT IndyCar Series team owners Bobby Rahal and Dale Coyne are both interested in talking to Hinchcliffe about the possibility of expanding their current and respective teams. However, both team owners said at this late stage of the offseason, it will be very difficult to get everything in place with sponsorship, team personnel and equipment to expand from their current two-car teams.

 

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

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.”