IndyCar’s Colton Herta and F1’s Lando Norris reunited in sim racing

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When Formula One driver Lando Norris of McLaren joins the IndyCar iRacing Challenge Saturday at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), he will renew a rivalry with Colton Herta that began in British Formula 4 in 2015.

At that time, Herta and Norris both drove for Carlin.

Herta finished third overall for Carlin with four race victories and a further eight podium finishes.

The two drivers were fast, very fast and Norris revealed that Herta’s nickname was “Hooligan Herta.”

Both drivers made it to the top rung of their respective sports as teenagers. Herta was just 18 when he started his first NTT IndyCar Series race in the 2018 season-finale at Sonoma Raceway. Norris was 19 years, four months and four days old when he started the 2019 Australian Grand Prix. He was the 12th teenager to start a Formula One race.

Norris is Saturday’s guest racer in the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas (COTA). It’s the fifth race of the six-race IndyCar iRacing Challenge (Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Lando and “Hooligan Herta” are together again. They are in open-wheel race cars battling against each other on the only course that Formula One and IndyCar share on its schedule. That is the incredible Circuit of the Americas, although Saturday’s contest is on virtual COTA.

“I’m excited and I’ve already had some warning messages coming in from Colton’s side,” Norris said Friday. “I don’t know if I should read them out or not.

“It will be nice to race him again. It’s been a while since I raced with him. I’m excited.

“I’m looking forward to it. I think obviously I’ve seen Colton racing. It’s been a while since he raced in F4 back in the day. We had some really good times. Yeah, we have a lot of respect for each other. I’m excited.

“Colton is a year younger than me. When he went into F4, he was the youngest guy in the field. I don’t want to sound like I’m talking like a guy with loads of experience, but it looks like he has matured in quite a way as I think I have in some ways. It looks like he’s become an even better driver than what he was. And he was freaking fast when I was racing against him.

“He was nicknamed ‘Hooligan Herta’ for many reasons.

“The racing we had was good fun. I’m excited to race against not only of course Colton but a lot of the other guys as well.”

Colton Herta celebrating IndyCar win at COTA

Herta is the defending winner of the actual IndyCar race at the real COTA in 2019. That was his first career IndyCar win and started him on a path to stardom.

The son of former IndyCar Series race winner Bryan Herta is excited to renew his battles with his former teammate from the Carlin F4 days.

“It’s awesome,” Herta said. “Obviously, I have a lot of respect for Lando, got to race against him for a year in British F4, then did some testing with him through Formula 3 and stuff. I have a lot of respect for him.

“It’s cool to see all these guys that are interested in running IndyCar and have the chance now virtually to do it. It is really cool to be able to race against Lando again. I’m looking forward to it.”

If the COVID-19 pandemic had not shut down the world, Norris would have been consumed in the Formula One world and Herta would have been concentrating on IndyCar.

Because nobody knows for sure when real racing will return, the drivers have fed their competitive appetite in virtual racing.

That has allowed Norris to test his skills against IndyCar competition. It’s important to the McLaren driver in order to keep his skills sharp. He has no idea when real racing will return.

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Norris has been a regular in the sim racing world. That has helped him adapt to the different cars that he has raced in the virtual world.

“It’s close already, especially for the guys who obviously haven’t driven iRacing anywhere near as much as me, because I’ve done a ton of it,” Norris said. “I’m in the fortunate position of it being something I’m very used to but a bunch of other guys aren’t used to as much.

“The more they get used to it, know how to drive it, it’s not exactly like driving an Indy car, I’m sure. There are differences in the iRacing models and stuff that are good, but there’s still things you need to know, learn about, how you can’t over-push the tire, over-slip it and so on.

“The more guys get used to this and learn how to drive another car, the better they’re going to be getting. I was close already. I know Sage Karam was very quick in the practice race. He does a lot of iRacing as well.

“It shows the people who have been more on this, on the program, on iRacing, are the faster guys at the moment. I’m sure it’s going to be getting closer and closer once everyone learns the secrets and tricks on how to do it.”

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

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.”