Homestead Offers Second Chance to Open the Grand-Am Season Southard Motorsports Brings New Body and Focused Driving Pair to Round 2 HOMESTEAD, Fla., March 25, 2008 - On the schedule Saturday's GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami marks the second race of...
Homestead Offers Second Chance to Open the Grand-Am Season
Southard Motorsports Brings New Body and Focused Driving Pair to Round 2
HOMESTEAD, Fla., March 25, 2008 - On the schedule Saturday's GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami marks the second race of the 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 season. With the significance and tradition of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the long layover since its January 27 checkered flag and a laundry list of changes to cars and teams, the 250 mile event at Homestead-Miami Speedway (HMS) takes on a season-opening aura; a fresh start clear of 2007 and Daytona. Chief among the many changes for Southard Motorsports is a freshly skinned body on the No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley and a driver lineup narrowed to two professionals: longtime Southard Motorsports driver Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) and first year pilot Bill Lester (Atlanta, Ga.). With these and other modifications complete, the Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) owned team is ready for a second chance to set the 2008 season off on the right foot.
A February 25-26 test at HMS gave much insight into what is on hand for '08 but the March 29 event will be the first real opportunity to see the full spectrum of 2008 competition. Headlining this weekend's event is a string of new chassis and new bodywork allowed for the first time this season by Grand American officials. While some teams debuted new, sleeker bodywork and other chassis changes at Daytona, the Grand Prix of Miami will see wholesale development by most teams. Southard Motorsports was among the contingent of Riley teams that made a complete body swap between Daytona and the Homestead test. The 2008-spec body is more aerodynamic creating less drag and more downforce than its predecessor. While providing obvious performance benefits, the new aerodynamics forces the team to begin anew with much of its setup data including gearing for the Lexus powerplant. New Pirelli tires since last year's Homestead event further negates the knowledge captured since the team made its Daytona Prototype debut here in 2003.
Southard Motorsports Drivers on Grid The February test will help speed-up the chassis and tire development entering Thursday's first practice at 2:45 pm (ET) and Friday qualifying (3:30 pm). However, the greatest asset to the Southard program will be its drivers; Lester and Lewis. Like all the teams, the Powell, Ohio-based group will be able to focus on its true, two-driver lineup rather than the larger, four-person rotation that saw action at Daytona. The two motorsports veterans have very similar driving styles that minimize the complications of finding a race-ready car setup. The pairing provided excellent and complementary feedback to the Southard crew following the test and the team has made several modifications since then to take advantage of that information leading into this weekend.
Lewis, a multi-time Grand-Am sanctioned event race winner, is the more experienced of the two on the 2.3- mile, 11-turn road course. He has driven the track for Southard Motorsports since 2004 and is also a regular on the KONI Challenge Series ST class. Lewis, who considers Homestead and Daytona his "home" tracks, held the ST class qualifying track record at Homestead and won the 2007 ST race here in 2007.
Lester knows the HMS facility well but that experience will give him little assistance this weekend. The former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series headliner has logged many miles around the 1.5-mile Homestead oval. However, only turns three and four of the oval make up the Homestead "roval"- a road course-oval hybrid. The circuit's other nine turns are in the oval's infield. The February test got the experienced road racer quickly up to speed but the challenge still looms for the driver making his full- season Grand-Am debut in 2008.
Steve Southard Owner:
About Homestead preparations: "It's tough to have such a long break between races. The one good point from that much time off is that Shane is now back 100%. The real challenge was getting the car ready for the test. We got the car back from Riley the Friday before the test and had three or four days to get it to Homestead. The front of the chassis was bent [as a result of a race-ending Rolex 24 incident] and it had to go back on the jig and get repaired. We made the decision to go to the new bodywork and that took some extra time before the test. Things went fairly well at the test and we know we have to spend more time on the aero of the new body." About the driver lineup: "I have always used 'gentleman' drivers as the second driver because of financial considerations. When you do that you pretty much have to settle for a back of the pack finish. When we used 'pro' drivers our record has been pretty good; two podiums [Long Beach and Phoenix, '06]. So having Bill teamed with Shane does raise the bar for the team. Our expectations are higher and the added pressure is felt by everyone. As an owner, I try to supply the best equipment and then hope the team can produce the results that we all want to see. I am looking forward to having two drivers that can both run comparable lap times with each other."
Bill Lester, Driver:
About the Homestead weekend: "Nothing really transfers from the Homestead oval to the 'roval' except my knowledge of the different lines that can be taken through [oval] turns three and four. I haven't tried them in testing but, if need be, I might do so in the race. We struggled in testing with grip in the slow turns and with so many of them at Homestead we will much improve our pace if we come back this weekend with a solution to this shortcoming."
About experiences learned at Daytona: "Probably the biggest experience gained from Daytona was that of the characteristics of the new Pirelli tires. The rain tires especially since it was the first time I had the opportunity to run on them."
Shane Lewis, Driver:
About the Homestead weekend:"I have been on the pole here, set fastest race laps several times and also won last season's Koni Challenge race at this facility. I really enjoy the fact that you need to be very patient in some areas and on the edge in others. It takes a thinking driver and that's what I enjoy. But don't forget a really good car. If you are lacking in just one area of the car; horsepower, handling or braking, it's not like some other tracks that a good driver can make up for that. If the car isn't perfect in all areas, you are in back of the pack in a hurry at Homestead."
About the long layover: "I can't wait to get back to Daytona Prototype racing again. If it was up to me I would be racing these cars every week. It was nice to be able to test here at the Speedway on the new Pirelli tire but testing just makes me want to race more. It's a different mindset when you live in Florida with the great winter weather; you want to be out racing and doing battle!"