Rain cuts short Indy 500 rookie test for Jimmie Johnson, Romain Grosjean

Johnson Grosjean Indy 500 test rain
Chris Owens/IndyCar
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The Indy 500 rookie test for Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean was cut short by rain after multiple delays Wednesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The session started shortly after 10:30 a.m. ET (which had been moved up from an originally scheduled noon start because of the threat of inclement weather). According to the NTT IndyCar Series, Johnson was about halfway through Phase I of the Rookie Orientation Program, and Grosjean had yet to begin his ROP when rain caused the first stoppage after less than 30 minutes.

The test was restarted shortly after 3 p.m. ET, but the day was cut short just before 5 p.m. by another shower. Both drivers were able to complete the first two phases of the ROP. Grosjean is two laps short of finishing the third and final phase, and Johnson needs 10 more laps for completion.

The ROP, which is mandatory for any Indianapolis 500 rookie, requires drivers to achieve three levels of speed incrementally around the 2.5-mile track. Phase I is 10 laps at 205-210 mph, Phase II is 15 laps at 210-215 mph, and Phase III is 15 laps at more than 215 mph.

In a Twitter video, Johnson said he had made laps between 206 to 208 mph in the No. 48 Dallara-Honda with Chip Ganassi Racing. Ganassi driving consultant Dario Franchitti, a three-time Indy 500 winner, was on hand at the test to help Johnson.

“It’s certainly much different than what I’ve ever experienced around this track,” said the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, who won the Brickyard 400 four times on the IMS oval. “Just trying to get my eyes used to the speed. Certainly a different feel in the car without power steering. Just the sense of the car is a lot different. A lot lighter vehicle. Much more reactive than what I’ve had here in the past.

“Just taking it in, enjoying it, and look forward to getting back on the racetrack once the weather moves through and complete my rookie orientation.”

As of 1 p.m. ET, track drying efforts were under way at IMS.

Jimmie Johnson begins his Rookie Orientation Program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

After running a 12-race schedule of road and street courses as a rookie in 2021, Johnson was making his IndyCar debut on an oval.

Grosjean also focused on road and street courses last season. He made his oval debut at World Wide Technology Raceway in August. The IMS test marked his debut with Andretti Autosport, which he will join for a full season in 2022.

Before making laps Wednesday, Johnson made light of having to reapply the rookie stripe to his car after he removed it following the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach season finale last month.

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.”