Daytona 24: Southard Motorsports Friday report

Southard Motorsports Plan in Place for the Start of the Daytona 24 No. 3 Lexus-Riley Locks in Top-18 Starting Spot for Grand-Am Opener DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., January 25, 2008 - Southard Motorsports placed itself firmly in the field (18th) for...

Southard Motorsports Plan in Place for the Start of the Daytona 24

No. 3 Lexus-Riley Locks in Top-18 Starting Spot for Grand-Am Opener

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., January 25, 2008 - Southard Motorsports placed itself firmly in the field (18th) for the 46th Annual Rolex 24 At Daytona in Thursday's first round of qualifications and then immediately turned its eye to the work at hand; winning the race. A 24 hour race at Daytona International Speedway always demands focused attention to detail from every member of a race team and for team owners Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) that focus begins with a plan. First on the agenda was to have the No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley ready for yesterday's first practice session around the 3.56-mile, 17-turn course. Next on the list, following a second practice, was to cleanly put the red, white and blue Whelen- Loctite Daytona Prototype into the show. Once completed, and required night practice checked-off, all hands turned to preparing the car for Saturday's 1:30 PM (ET) start of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 season.

For the drivers, time is of the essence on and off the track. When limited on-track sessions come face-to- face with four drivers all clamoring for laps behind the wheel, tough decisions on driving order, double- stinting - keeping the same driver in the car over the course of two pit stops - and who practices and qualifies the car are all critical to the overall success of a program. NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standout Bill Lester (Atlanta, Ga.), veteran sports car ace Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.), NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Champion Ted Christopher (Plainville, Conn.) and former Indy 500 co-Rookie of the Year Alex Barron (Menifee, Calif.) each needed time to acquaint themselves with the 2008 iteration of the Southard entry, which has taken the green flag in every Daytona Prototype race since the 2003 season-finale. Each needed to be able to run the car as quickly and consistently as possible over multiple laps to ensure a good result. Again, it was the plan that formed the strategy balancing driving time and maximizing performance of the Riley chassis.

The well experienced team opted not to rush headlong into a qualifying setup. As part of the strategy to establish the best race setup for the car and to get each driver an adequate number of laps the team's focus remained on making a car that was consistently quick and comfortable for the four drivers.

With a strong race setup established by team engineer Buddy Fee, new to Southard Motorsports in '08, and longtime crew chief Rich Howe in the first two practice sessions, they made few changes to the No. 3 when Lewis rolled the car out for first round qualifying yesterday afternoon. The Southard Lexus, just one of three Lexus-powered cars in the race, set its fastest times of the weekend (one minute, 42.936 seconds) in qualifying. In fact, they were the quickest laps it has ever turned at Daytona. It was all done with the same basic setup that will take the green flag in the 67-car race tomorrow.

First round qualifying for the Rolex 24 sets the grid for the top-30 Daytona Prototypes in the race, with the 18th quick time set by Lewis, the No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley had no reason to enter today's second round of qualifying and, late on Thursday, began to convert the car to an endurance racer.

Each moment of each day leading into the start is well choreographed by the Southards and Team Manager Mason Meredith to culminate with the running of the race. However, as all professional teams like Southard Motorsports know, just starting the Rolex 24 is not enough. Because the mix of high-banked oval and twisty infield road course can be so brutal to machines, every nut and bolt, every line and cable must not only be checked but removed, inspected and refitted. Many components, such as the starter that will have to crank out flawless ignition after every pit stop, will be replaced entirely. Early in the week, team management and the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) engineers that oversee the Lexus engine program scheduled to utilize Friday to remove the V8 Lexus powerplant used in practice and qualifying and replace it with a new, endurance-prepared engine.

With the new engine in place, the No. 3 saw only limited track time, nine laps, in today's final on-track practice. While each driver would have preferred more, this move helps to maximize power and reliability to make it to the finish on Sunday afternoon. In 2007, the winning Lexus engine covered 2,378.08 miles during the 668 lap race.

The 46th Annual Rolex 24 marks Lester's fifth twice- around the clock event at Daytona while Christopher is making his second start. Barron is a rookie in the race and Lewis, the most experienced sports car racer of the group, will be making his 11th Rolex 24 start, his 25th 24 hour race start overall.

Steve Southard, Team Owner: "Everything has gone to plan so far. When you have a good race car like the Lexus-Riley you are always tempted at the last minute to throw the plan out the window and go for a top-five qualifying spot. But, we held true to the strategy. 24 hours is a long time and here it can seem like an eternity. Our goal is to be around for the checkered flag and to accomplish that you need to keep the big picture in mind. We have a car and a team that we are very confident in right now."

Bill Lester, Driver: "Competing in this event will rank highly in my list of racing accomplishments. Personally, I want this race to begin to reestablish my road racing talent as a driver. By being both quick and smart, my plan is to run consistently solid laps behind the wheel while being cautiously aggressive so as to take care of the car. Each race is important but probably none more so than the first of the year for setting the tempo for the season. I want to continue gaining the respect of the team while being a valuable asset and team member."

Shane Lewis, Driver: "Make laps, never come to pit lane except for fuel and tires then make more laps. Remain calm in GT traffic. Make even more laps. Never put a wheel wrong. Laps. Take care of the drivetrain, laps again. Stay focused as the sun goes down and comes up. Laps, laps, take care of the brakes. Did I mention laps? Never come to pit lane unless the wheels are falling off. Even if they are falling off, only come in if you have permission from Richie. [Howe, crew chief]. That is the plan. That is what we need from this driver lineup. If we do that, we will see the podium."

Ted Christopher, Driver: "If you can be close when the sun comes up then I think you have a chance for a really good finish. This year I got Whelen and Loctite to help me do this race and I am really excited about it. I race pretty hard and I know in these endurance races you want to be a little patient. Racing here, with all the traffic, is a lot like short track racing. I am used to starting at the back in those races because in weekly short track racing they handicap you. So you always have traffic, slower cars, less experienced drivers, so you have to be patient. I know how to do that. The night stints don't worry me too much either. I have raced at tracks that are a lot darker than it is at Daytona. I am looking to get this thing to the sunrise and then it will be 'game-on' hopefully."

-credit: sm

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Shane Lewis , Alex Barron , Bill Lester , Steve Southard , Ted Christopher
Teams Toyota Racing