Watkins Glen II: Southard Motorsports race report

Wet Weather Watkins Glen Throws Wrench into Southard Motorsports Effort Lester and Lewis Leave Watkins Glen with Top-15 WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., August 12, 2008 - "Rain, rain, go away!" The children's chant was being echoed in the minds of many...

Wet Weather Watkins Glen Throws Wrench into Southard Motorsports Effort Lester and Lewis Leave Watkins Glen with Top-15

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., August 12, 2008 - "Rain, rain, go away!" The children's chant was being echoed in the minds of many during the Crown Royal 200. The Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series' second visit of the season to Watkins Glen International - the first on the 3.4-mile, 11 turns 'Short Course' - was threatened by rain throughout the weekend. Before the start of the 200 mile Daytona Prototype (DP) event the skies opened-up leaving the track wet and the decision makers scratching their heads. The choice was made that Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) would start the No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley on wet weather, grooved tires. That pre-race call would begin to haunt not only the Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) operation but other top DP teams as well within laps of the green flag. Lewis and co-driver Bill Lester (Atlanta) would ultimately finish 14th after a day of fighting with Mother Nature. "Rain, rain, go away or come and stay!"

Southard Motorsports No. 3 on track - Image by Juha Lievonen Southard Riley at The Glen. Image by Juha Lievoen Lewis, a multi-time Grand-Am event race winner, started tenth and made early progress on the grooved rain tires despite no new precipitation falling. When a downpour struck on lap two the daring call by the Powell, Ohio-based program seemed to be perfect. In an effort to get ahead of the field, as they did at the Montreal event last week, the red, white and blue prototype pitted under the first caution brought on by the showers. Returning to the track with fuel only, the cascade of unfortunate timing began as the rains stopped again. As the still dark clouds held-back their contents, the track began to dry under the heat of each passing lap by the large Grand-Am field. By lap five, the track was too dry for wet weather rubber and the tires began to blister. Losing time and positions to those who opted to risk the start on dry tires, the No. 3 was called in for slicks. As improbable as it seemed, with the next lap the rain returned again. A quick stop for the rain tires would put the Southard machine back further in the field but kept the car safely on course until the rain stopped again, this time for good. A final change to slicks and to put Lester into the car would leave the Southard Lexus-Riley five laps down to the leaders. Lester would recapture one lap on his way to crossing the now completely dry finish line in 14th.

Steve Southard, Owner: "We were one of three cars that started the race on rain tires [the others being the numbers 01 and 10]. The weather radar looked green all over, the track was wet but it wasn't raining at the start. Two laps in it started to rain and two cars came together in Turn One bringing out a caution. We decided that an early stop might be the smart thing to do to get the mandatory stop out of the way. Five laps later it stopped raining and dried out. We stopped for slicks when Shane told us that the rain tires were going away. One lap later it started to rain again. Slicks are OK in damp conditions if you can first build some heat in them but it was wet enough that we could not build any heat in the slicks. It was again time for wets. We made another pit stop for rains and, of course, it stopped raining. This time for good. We put Bill in the car and finished the race on slicks. I hope we never have to race in those kinds of conditions again. I would prefer to have it either rain or, better yet, go away and not have to deal with changing wet conditions."

Shane Lewis, Driver: "The whole race for us was decided at the start. It all came down to tires. We never seemed to be on the right type. We had a pretty good qualifying run and high hopes for the event. The track was pretty wet and the sky was pretty dark so we made the call to start on the rain tires. We had to stop when the rains [rain tires] started to blister. As soon as we did the skies just opened up and the car was everywhere on the slicks. Another stop and we were done for. The 'short course' at Watkins Glen is just too quick. Once you go down a lap you are done. There is almost no way to make it up. The tough part is we had a pretty good car. It just wasn't our day again but we were in pretty good company in the call."

-credit: sm

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Shane Lewis , Bill Lester , Steve Southard