Max Verstappen wins Abu Dhabi GP after dominating flag to flag

Verstappen won abu dhabi
Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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After cruising for 55 laps, Max Verstappen won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix by an easy margin of nearly 16 seconds. Verstappen launched from the pole and was never seriously challenged. It was his second victory of 2020 and first since round four at Silverstone.

After dramatic openings to the last two Formula 1 races that resulted in a fiery crash for Romain Grosjean in the Bahrain GP and a three-car accident in the Sakhir GP that sent its eventual winner Sergio Perez to the pits and brought out a safety car, the Abu Dhabi GP got off to a clean start. At the green, polesitter Verstappen pulled away in the opening laps with second-place starter Valterri Bottas and third-place Lewis Hamilton following the leaders.

Last week’s Sakhir GP accident forced Verstappen to retire with crash damage after he went off course to avoid the spinning Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc. This week showcased a reversal of fortune.

Verstappen exacted revenge for last week’s early retirement with this victory. Notably, the Sakhir GP winner went from first to last. Perez brought out the only caution of the race when his car lost power on Lap 10 to bring out a full course caution.

“It was really enjoyable; yesterday already of course” said Verstappen after the race. “But we had a great start … and of course you look after the tires, but the car had really good balance.

“Once you get to start up front, you can control the pace and it makes your life a bit easier. … I enjoy that I won. I’m going to enjoy the podium, then I’m going to enjoy going home.”

Verstappen’s previous win this season also came over the pair of Mercedes drivers. Hamilton finished 11.326 seconds behind at Silverstone in second with Bottas another eight seconds back in third. In the Abu Dhabi GP, it was Bottas who stood on the second step of the podium.

“I think Red Bull was too quick today, surprisingly quick,” Bottas said. “We thought the race pace would be pretty identical, but he was able to control the race and get the gap when needed. I was trying all I could, but couldn’t keep up with him.

“I feel I did a solid race from my side. No mistakes and I couldn’t get more out of the package we had today.”

After missing one week for testing positive with novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Hamilton had an opportunity to set a personal record for his most wins in a season at 12. Hamilton has five previous wins on this track including three of the last four. He has stood on the podium in seven consecutive races now.

“You can’t win them all,” Hamilton said. “I think considering the past couple of weeks I’ve had, I’m generally happy with the weekend. It’s obviously not 100 percent; it’s not as good as I’d like. … That was a really hard race for me physically. All year, physically I’ve been fine. Today I definitely wasn’t, so I’m just glad it’s over.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so blown. My body is not feeling great, but I look on the bright side. I made it through. I didn’t think anytime last week that I would be here, so I’m really truly grateful for my health.”

After practice and qualification for the Abu Dhabi GP, Hamilton admitted that he was not at 100 percent while still suffering lingering symptoms from his fight with the virus.

“The Red Bulls this weekend were just too far out of reach for us,” Hamilton continued. “We couldn’t hold onto the pace they had. Fantastic job to see Alex [Albon] right up there with us, so we had a two team battle, which is what the sport needs. I really hope in 2022 the cars are better to follow because – I don’t know if it was a boring race to watch – but as soon as you get within like four seconds, you’re just sliding around in turbulence the whole time.”

McLaren takes third in the constructors championship behind Mercedes and Red Bull. Lando Norris finished fifth with Carlos Sainz in sixth. They finished seven points ahead of Racing Point. Sainz ended the race under investigation for a pit lane infraction when he was alleged to intentionally slow on pit road. He was cleared of the penalty post-race.

Norris finished more than eight seconds ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.

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.”