Sebastien Bourdais out at Dale Coyne Racing, joins IMSA fulltime

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In perhaps the offseason’s most surprising announcement, four-time Champ Car Series champion 37-time NTT IndyCar Series race winner Sebastien Bourdais is out at Dale Coyne Racing at Vasser Sullivan.

“I can confirm that Sebastien is moving out,” team co-owner Jimmy Vasser told NBCSports.com Friday afternoon.

About one hour later came the official announcement. A few hours after that came official word that Bourdais will leave the NTT IndyCar Series entirely to join the Mustang Sampling, LLC to field the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R in the 2020 and 2021 seasons of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The full-season driver lineup includes two-time series champion Joao Barbosa and Bourdais, set in JDC-Miller’s No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing entry.

“I want to thank Sebastien for having the confidence to come back from his Formula One tour and join our team in 2011, and again for his commitment to the team during the past three years,” team owner Dale Coyne said in a statement. “It is not a decision we take lightly, but due to the ever-changing landscape of Indy car racing, we have no choice but to make a change for 2020. We wish Sebastien all the best with his future racing endeavors.”

Bourdais had two stints with Coyne’s NTT IndyCar Series team including 2011 when it was Dale Coyne Racing and again in 2017 when Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan joined as partners.

“I want to thank Dale, Jimmy and Sulli for giving me this opportunity to continue racing in the NTT IndyCar Series over the past few years,” Bourdais, said. “I look forward to pursuing new opportunities in racing in the years ahead.”

While with the team, Bourdais won back to back races at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, his hometown event, and scored three other podium finishes.  He returned from a horrific crash in qualifying for the 2017 Indianapolis 500 to win his second season opener at St. Petersburg in 2018. Bourdais has often been one of the quickest Hondas in Indianapolis 500 qualifying in each of the past three years.

Vasser and Sullivan issued a joint statement that said, “We both want to thank Sebastien for the outstanding job he did driving for our teams KVSH Racing and Dale Coyne Racing Vasser-Sullivan. Looking back Seb has driven 84 races for us. In that time, we captured poles and won a lot of races. Sebastien is a great friend, a great driver, a true champion and a fantastic ambassador for our partners and Indy car racing. We wish him the best of luck in the next phase of his career where we hope there will be an opportunity for us to race together again.”

The team is exploring several options in order to complete its driver lineup for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series, and an announcement will be made in the near future

There are three talented drivers currently without a ride in the series including popular veteran James Hinchcliffe, Conor Daly and Spencer Pigot. Hinchcliffe is believed to have the inside line on this ride because of his strong connections with Honda.

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.”