Lewis and Lux Give No. 3 Preformed Line Products Lexus Riley Highest '07 Finish TOOELE, Utah September 16, 2007 - Southard Motorsports closed the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve season in fine style...
Lewis and Lux Give No. 3 Preformed Line Products Lexus Riley Highest '07 Finish
TOOELE, Utah September 16, 2007 - Southard Motorsports closed the 2007 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve season in fine style at Miller Motorsports Park on Saturday. Lead driver Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) and team newcomer Eric Lux (Buffalo, NY) charged from 14th to fourth in the No. 3 Preformed Line Products Lexus Riley in the Sunchaser 1000 despite a final practice accident that left the car looking questionable to even make the start. The fourth-place finish was the highest for the Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) owned team this season and the second-highest of the team's career. Southard Motorsports' best Rolex Series result was third, twice, in 2006 with Lewis leading the team to podiums at Long Beach and Phoenix.
The day's top-five finish, which came against all the top talent of the Rolex Series, was made even more impressive by the devastating turn of events that preceded it. To start, a late-in-the-week driver change put Lux in the car for his Daytona Prototype (DP) debut with no test time- no easy task around the long, 4.5- mile, 24-turn Miller Motorsports Park facility. A frustrating qualifying run placed Lewis and Lux 14th on the grid of 21 DP cars- a total of 46 DP and GT cars started the 14th event of the season. Despite all the adversity, it was not until the final morning practice that the team was hit with its greatest challenge of the weekend.
At approximately 8 AM local time on race morning, while participating in the 15-minute final practice session of the weekend, the red, white and blue PLP machine was struck by a GT class car. The accident destroyed the left-front corner of the Lexus-powered Riley-built chassis. With an 11 AM start for the 1000 kilometer race looming, the team went to work. While lesser teams would have been overwhelmed and succumb to the challenge, the Southard program stepped-up and overcame the obstacle to take their top-15 grid position for the drop of the green flag. A remarkable feat by any standard made even more inspiring by the team's relatively modest budget.
This type of heart, dedication and drive is no surprise to followers of Southard Motorsports. In fact, facing down adversity has become the hallmark of the Powell, Ohio-based team. On more that one occasion bad luck has struck the team early in the weekend of Grand-Am events. Two such instances were well documented. In 2006, a fire burnt the entire rear-end of the team's Riley chassis in Sonoma, Calif. The team salvaged, scavenged and made parts to put the car back on track for the race. To open the 2007 season, the Riley chassis was an essential write-off when, in the closing moments of the pre-season test for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the car was ripped nearly in-two. In both instances, the hard-working team with the Midwestern attitude of never-give-up fought back to have the No. 3 take the green flag.
Now back on track, the Sunchaser 1000 proved to be a grueling, 139 lap fight in the Utah desert just outside of Salt Lake City. Lewis attacked early displaying the ultimate respect to his crew by showing no signs of concern over the last minute repairs. The popular driver moved into the top-10 before handing the car over to Lux. The young driver had never raced in the top division of the Rolex Series prior to the Sunchaser event, instead having logged his recent Grand-Am laps in the GT class. Lux kept the car in the top-10 before handing it back to the veteran. As has been the case for much of the season, the Southard team used strong race/pit strategy to slice through the field. Unlike several previous events this year, nothing came into play at the end of the race to erase the progress of the Southard machine. The strategy and hard charging by the drivers paid-off placing Lewis in the top-eight in the closing stages. He alternated precision driving with aggressive attitude to move into the top-five, then to fourth. The No. 3 looked primed to take their third career podium finish before a late race caution and traffic allowed the top-three to sprint ahead. Despite always wanting more, the organization was thrilled with the top-four finish after a weekend, and a season, of trials.
Steve Southard, Team Owner: "What an incredible race. The guys did a super job on all of our pit stops and both Shane and Eric drove perfectly. We didn't have the fastest car on the track but we made the right decisions and everything went our way. Eric deserves a 'hats off' for the job he did. He didn't even sit in a DP car until Wednesday and he took over from Shane in eighth and then brought the car back to us still in eighth and unmarked. A great job was done by both drivers and the entire Southard Motorsports crew. This finish will make the winter seem a lot shorter."
Shane Lewis, Driver: "The only word I can use to describe the last race of the season is 'spectacular'. The 1000k at Miller is a real test of driver, crew and the car. It takes a total package to do well at this event. The car was great, the pit stops and pit calls were spot-on and Eric did a fantastic job. We started this weekend with a mid-pack car and worked on it every session. The Lexus engine ran perfectly and the Riley chassis was tough as nails. I thought I had a shot at the podium up until the last full course caution. Our fourth-place finish is our best this season and it really feels like a win. When you look at everything that has happened to this team this weekend you just have to shake your head and wonder how the heck we got the result we did. But, it was hard work from every single person at Southard Motorsports that did it. I am so very proud of the team."