Austin Dyne: “I’m Ready For This Big Opportunity With Rahal Letterman Lanigan”
Austin Dyne’s third Red Bull Global Rallycross Supercar season was his most intense yet, as he balanced the management of his own team with building upon consistent results in 2015. By the end of the year, the Los Angeles native had built a cohesive unit that helped him show the speed to run at the front of the pack.
Many of the same engineers that Dyne ended 2016 will work with him again in 2017, but he’ll be in a new environment: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, an Indianapolis 500 and championship-winning race team that will make its first foray into Red Bull GRC this year. In an exclusive interview, Dyne opens up about the many benefits of working with RLL, the lessons he learned last season, and his long-term hopes with the program:
After running your own program by yourself last year, you’re making a big switch in 2017 by joining the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing squad. How did this deal come together, and what makes RLL the right fit for you this season?
This offseason, there were a lot of options out there, and it was about figuring out the best option. I kind of held out to see where I could end up, and Bobby’s team seemed to be the best fit—from his reputation in racing alone, to his team’s reputation, how impressive they are and how long they’ve been running.
They’re one of the top IndyCar teams. They’re a single-car team, but they know how to use resources very well and efficiently, both there and on the BMW sports car team. They’re a big team, but they still operate like a small group. It’s a pretty big operation, but it’s not like things get forgotten with hundreds of people. You still feel at home.
2016 was a challenging year for you as you balanced the development of your own Supercar team with trying to produce results as a driver. How does joining RLL make it easier for you to get those results on-track, beyond just the fact that you’re able to shed some of those owner responsibilities?
It’s just going to be nice to be able to focus on racing again! I don’t think people realized how much I was doing. I wasn’t just showing up at the racetrack and having people take care of stuff—I was fully involved. It was really hard getting to the track, and we were so behind the eight ball that we didn’t really catch our breath until before Seattle when we had a big engineering switch and made some changes.
I’m still sticking with those engineers for 2017, they were definitely the way to go. But I’m looking forward to racing again, and being able to just focus on my on-track stuff.
Another big difference from 2015 to last year was that you went without a teammate for all intents and purposes last year, and you’ll do the same thing in 2017. Knowing that you’re doing all of your own development and setup work at the track, how much harder is it to compete in this series without a teammate? Likewise, where can the team’s sole focus on you this year provide an advantage?
Development. We can make our own components in-house, so I don’t have to call anyone to make anything. That will take some time to make it happen—for us to progress to that point, we need to get the car completely rebuilt, and there’s going to be a learning process. But with our group, I think we have a lot of smart people, there are a lot of smart people at RLL, and we’ll be able to figure this thing out pretty fast.
This whole year is about building on the future. My goal when we did this deal was that this isn’t a short-term thing; my goal would be to be here for my whole career, that’s how much faith I have in these guys. But that’s also something that has been really hard for me, because every year, even before I came into rallycross, I’ve only ever been with teams for one year. That makes it really hard, but you just keep building.
Last year, I think I did some of the best driving I’ve ever done, but we just didn’t have the results. I knew when we ended the year that I felt good about it, so as a driver, I feel like I’m ready for this big opportunity.
The one thing that has stayed the same for you over the past few years is the M-Sport chassis. Those cars took three victories last year and were the only ones that seemed to regularly take the fight to Volkswagen. What is it about the Fiesta that has worked so well in this sport over the years? How much can you do to close the gap with the car?
It’s hard! They’re a full-blown factory effort, and they’re getting an insane amount of help, just like Subaru and just like Honda. But it just shows how talented M-Sport is, and we’re thankful for the help that they give us. The thing is, you just have to maximize the car. It seems to be the most well rounded car—it might not be the top car, but it’s up there every single weekend. Some of the other cars have a lot more weaknesses then we do, and there are a lot of things where we know we have a really good base.
Last year, we tried to swap some stuff on the car, but when we went back to the way I liked it at the end of the year it made a big difference. We’ll be staying in that ballpark with the car and developing little things, at least for the first couple of races. But who knows what the future holds?
Two-part question: there’s an interesting mix of new and returning venues on this year’s schedule. Where are you most excited about going for the first time and where are you looking forward to returning?
I have no idea! I haven’t even been thinking about the schedule—I’m just really looking forward to getting to Memphis. That’s been our goal. I don’t care as much about where I’m racing as I am super grateful to be in a racecar. It doesn’t really matter where the track is, I just need to perform in every race and enjoy it.
Los Angeles is your home event and one that you’ve always seemed to have plenty of fan support at, but the track hasn’t always loved you back. What would it mean to finally conquer the Port of Los Angeles this year and take home a podium finish or even a victory?
Every year, it feels like we have no luck no matter what I do. We were really fast in LA last year—the last two races, Seattle and LA, we could have made the podium if we had no issues. But in Seattle, we got unlucky when someone crashed into us in the start of the main, and we didn’t even do one lap. LA was the same thing: we got a flat tire going into Turn 2 in third place, and in the last race I had my hood pop up on me when I was in fourth place in Turn 3.
We still somehow finished seventh in that race, so hopefully we get some more luck on our side this year. I think I’ve shown what I can do, and I’m as confident as I’ve ever been. I have a lot of friends and family that come out to that race every year, and with how much bad luck we’ve had over the past three years, it would be quite special to win there.
What can you tell us about your preseason seat time? When and where are you, or have you been, testing before the opener, and what has the team worked on this year?
We have a lot of work to do—we have stuff working now, but obviously this deal has just come together. I’m going to be here for as long as I need to be to help make the transition happen. There are obviously some positives with having run on our own last year; I learned what it takes just to get to the track, and I think that’s something drivers need to understand. Taking the car apart, cleaning it out, helping the guys and learning all the components helped. So I’ll be involved in the rebuild of the car to learn more and help.
In terms of testing, we’re going to test, but it’s a matter of how soon we finish the rebuild. I’m pretty confident we’ll be ready by the end of the month, and two tests is the goal before the start of the season. We’ve got a great group of guys, so I think we can make it happen.
Looking around the rest of the field, outside your own team, which drivers do you have your eye on to have a good year? Is there anyone in particular you’re watching out for?
It’s so hard, because you could see toward the middle and the end of last year that it was really everyone. This sport has never been this close before! Obviously, Scott Speed has done well, but you could see at the end of the year that no one really had an advantage. It was pretty impressive, because you didn’t know what was going to happen.
I think all the cars are capable of winning now, and that’s never been the case. You can say Scott from the last two years, but guys like Steve Arpin and Brian Deegan were running really well last year, the Hondas were running really well, and Subaru was definitely pretty good at the end of the year. So it’s hard to say one over another.
Finally, let’s talk expectations for this year. You’re with a new program, but you’re bringing over a lot of the folks that you built momentum with at the end of 2016. What are your expectations for this season—and what are you hoping to achieve with the team in the years to come?
I think we can answer the second half of that question better later in the year, although we are already working towards 2018 and 2019. This year, we’re looking for podiums, obviously, top fives, and points. That’s the goal, and that’s what I did in 2015. We were really good, and I was disappointed that we didn’t finish at least third in points that year, because we were one of the most consistent cars. We just had things go off in LA literally, and some things that were out of my control. So we’re going to aim for podiums and top fives.
Of course I want to say I’m going out for the win, and that is the number one goal. But right now, I’m happy with solid finishes and working as a group. This is the first time I’ve even worked with some of the same people for two years in a row. I have that on my side, so this isn’t a fully new thing—it’s kind of a hybrid where I’ll still work with some new people, but I’ll have some people I worked with at the end of last year. We already know each other, they know what I like, and I know how they work. So this is something I really want to build on.
Photo credit: Louis Yio