How Marcus Ericsson took flight from last to first to win the Nashville Music City Grand Prix

0 Comments

NASHVILLE – Even with the best seat in the house, Marcus Ericsson was unsure how he won the inaugural IndyCar Music City Grand Prix.

And can you blame the Chip Ganassi Racing Driver for being a little confused behind the wheel?

After an airborne crash, a stop-and-go penalty to the rear and a masterful job of saving fuel while staving off the season’s dominant street-course star, there was a lot to process.

“I’m trying to figure it out myself,” Ericsson said with a sheepish smile Sunday night after his second career NTT IndyCar Series victory.

RESULTS, POINTS STANDINGS: Full stats package from Nashville

Let’s start with perhaps the most memorable highlight of the 2021 season: Ericsson’s (admittedly self-inflicted) crash with Sebastien Bourdais that shot his No. 8 Dallara-Honda about 6 feet into the air on the short chute between Turns 10 and 11 (and giving quite a show to the fans lining the Nissan Stadium pedestrian ramps).

“I was seeing the sky,” Ericsson said. “When I hit the ground, I felt that one. I’m really sorry for Seb there. I got caught out. I thought everyone was going, and I went. I think someone in front of Seb braked, and he braked. I just didn’t have time to react. I was really sorry for seeing him going out of the race that way. I’m really sorry for that.”

The car’s nose and front wing were replaced, but there were other parts of the suspension that were damaged but unrepairable after slamming back on the asphalt from the violent collision, hampering the car’s handling through left-hand corners.

Ericsson also caught a break while limping back to the pits when the wing briefly slipped beneath his tires and turned him into the wall at Turn 6.

“It kind of bent the right front,” he said. “I thought I had to stop. Somehow the wing came to the front again and I got steering and I could continue. Then yeah, somehow things worked out in our favor.”

Ericsson already was restarting at the rear because of the pit stop for repairs, but it was the stop and go shortly after the Lap 9 restart that left him nearly 20 seconds behind 24th. “I couldn’t see a single car,” he said. “I just tried to put down lap times. I think we were as fast as the leaders at that point. So I definitely had the pace.”

Marcus Ericsson was a popular winner with Nashville fans after winning the Music City Grand Prix (Chris Jones/IndyCar).

That was partly because he and engineer/strategist Brad Goldberg made the risky call to put on the softer red tires, which Ericsson was able to stretch for 40 laps despite their relative lack of durability to the primary black compound.

A caution flag on Lap 16 allowed him to catch the pack and gain some spots when other cars pitted under yellow. Then on the Lap 19 restart, there was a 10-car traffic jam in Turn 11, and Ericsson some managed to avoid getting caught.

“I think that took away like five or six cars that was ahead of me,” he said. “That really put me up in a good position (in 12th). Then I knew we were in a very good spot. From then on, it was all about trying not to do any mistakes and be focused and hoping that this strategy would work out.”

It did when the yellow flew on Lap 31 and sent pole-sitter Colton Herta and several others into the pits – and Ericsson into the lead for the first time on Lap 33.

He led 37 of the final 48 laps, controlling the race after a final pit stop on Lap 45.

Herta, who was trying to win his second street race from the pole this season after also pacing the first two practice sessions at Nashville, pushed hard to catch Ericsson before crashing with five laps remaining.

“Congrats to Marcus; he drove a hell of a race there at the end,” Herta told NBC Sports pit reporter Dave Burns. “I didn’t think he was going to make it (on fuel), and he just kept pulling away from me. Good job to him.”

Ericsson, a veteran of five Formula One seasons and various European racing series, said beating Herta was “one of the the toughest challenges of my career. I’m very proud that I could keep him behind and keep the pace up. That won me the race.

“I knew it was going to be big fuel (conservation). I thought the tires held on well. I was on the red tire for a long time after my incident in the start. I didn’t feel like they were wearing that much, especially if you were looking after the rears.

“I wasn’t concerned about the tire wear really. I knew I could keep them underneath me. That’s one of my biggest strengths, is to sort of conserve tires. So that was not a concern. The biggest concern for me was the fuel.

“That was probably the best performance of my career to keep (Herta) behind for that long. When he pulled off behind me, I was thinking this is not going to work. We’ve seen all weekend how fast he’s been. I’m thinking, I’m not going to be able to hold him back. I just went into myself and tried to focus on where can I save most fuel where he cannot attack me, where can I push to make sure I stay ahead. I was really trying to just use all my experience to try and figure out how I was going to keep this guy behind. I was really proud of doing that.”

Ericsson, 30, said the key was using push-to-pass for more horsepower heading into the two long straightaways on the 2.17-mile course at the exits of Turns 3 and 8.

He also conceded having some luck helps when racing in a series where he proved again that anything can happen.

“The races are tough because they are long and you have tire wear, you have different strategies with the fueling, refueling, and the car is never planted to the ground,” Ericsson said. “You always need to fight the car in some way with understeer, oversteer. I think that really makes it a series that’s tough and never straightforward. You always need to, like, push to the limit.”

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws
0 Comments

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.”