Romain Grosjean happy with second in GMR Grand Prix, unhappy with traffic

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In only his third NTT IndyCar Series start, Romain Grosjean challenged for his first career win until he gave up the lead late in the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Rinus VeeKay, who scored his first win in his 19th start. Grosjean earned his first podium finish instead.

“I think we’re kind of disappointed to be second but also super happy, and I was telling the team, look, guys, that’s a great day,” Grosjean said in the post race press conference. “You can’t be disappointed being second. That’s fantastic.”

“We’ve had a strong car all weekend. We were leading the race quite easily in the first stint. We got a bit unlucky with traffic and back markers. I think that cost us a chance to go for the win, but also Rinus was quite fast on a different strategy.

“The right one, I guess.”

Grosjean opted to start on faster red tires, but when he made the mandatory switch to blacks for his third stint, he lost enough pace to allow VeeKay to pass him and then extend his lead in a series pit stops in the second half of the race. VeeKay secured the win with a dramatic three-wide pass over eventual third-place finisher Alex Palou and Jimmie Johnson, who they were lapping.

VeeKay started on blacks after saving a set of reds in qualification. That allowed him to pick up the pace at the end.

Grosjean started the race from the pole for the first time in his IndyCar career.

“But we’ve done great work, and sitting second in my third race starting in IndyCar, it’s pretty big,” Grosjean continued. “It is a tough championship. There’s super good talent here, super fast drivers.

“Yesterday I felt amazing in qually. This morning in the warmup we didn’t get quite it right and we made some changes for the race, and that worked well.

“I think I did a pretty good job at the first rolling start leading the field, kept myself first through the first corner and then the restart felt a little bit more natural to me, so that was good, as well, and the car was very, very nice. I still think there is a few areas we can work and improve. That’s what we’re going to do.”

And while Grosjean was incredibly happy to finish second, he was able to identify the challenge that may have cost him the victory. Lapped traffic, both in the pits and on track, denied Grosjean the opportunity to stay in contact with VeeKay at the end of the race.

“I think (VeeKay) still came out with a good lead and also I was behind two cars leaving the pit lane; back markers,” Grosjean said. “So it was a tough day in terms of overtaking people.

“I know it’s a really good track with a really good straight line, but when the lap cars are using their Push-to-Pass, it’s hard to get by, and then obviously you’re going to push harder on your tires and get a bit of a harder time, and you just can’t really do the pace you want.”

Once back on track for the final segment, Grosjean was stuck behind Sebastien Bourdais, who ended the GMR Grand Prix 19th as the first driver one lap off the pace. Bourdais was going just fast enough to keep Grosjean behind him, but slowly enough to allow VeeKay to build on his lead.

“I think every series is different, and you’ve got blue flags issued everywhere,” Grosjean said. “In Formula 1 I was shown the blue flags quite a bit over the last few years and it was terrible for us. The leader complained that it wasn’t good enough.

“Here today obviously I wish it was on more often because I was the guy that was chasing them, but it’s the rule that IndyCar uses. Is there room for improvement? Probably. Is there a perfect solution? No. But definitively I think traffic cost us the win today.

“I think the fact that the back marker can use the Push-to-Pass to defend from the leader, that’s a bit more annoying.”

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.”