Daytona 24: Southard Motorsports race report

Accident Knocks Southard Motorsports Out of Daytona 24 with Four Hours Remaining No. 3 Lexus-Riley Has Strong Top-8 Showing Before Finishing 17th in DP Class DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., January 27, 2008 - Southard Motorsports leaves the 46th Annual...

Accident Knocks Southard Motorsports Out of Daytona 24 with Four Hours Remaining

No. 3 Lexus-Riley Has Strong Top-8 Showing Before Finishing 17th in DP Class

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., January 27, 2008 - Southard Motorsports leaves the 46th Annual Rolex 24 At Daytona disappointed but inspired for the remainder of the 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 season. The Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) owned program climbed as high as eighth- place before falling out of the season-opener due to a yet-to-be-determined failure on the No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley that led to an accident. Veteran Daytona Prototype driver Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) suffered minor muscle pulls in his back and neck as a result of the incident. He was examined by the Daytona International Speedway medical staff and sent to nearby Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach for x-rays and observation. No broken bones or serious 'soft tissue' injuries were observed. The five- year veteran of the Southard operation was released late today. The Southard Motorsports Lexus-powered Riley chassis finished 17th in Daytona Prototype class, 42nd overall.

Despite the disappointment of falling four hours short of crossing the finish line, full season drivers Bill Lester (Atlanta, Ga.) and Lewis can eagerly look forward to the second round of the Rolex Daytona Prototype Series on March 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Lexus powerplant and Riley chassis performed flawlessly up until the accident. Team strategy and quick driving by Lester and Lewis as well as Rolex 24 co-drivers Alex Barron (Menifee, Calif.) and Ted Christopher (Plainville, Conn.) were positioning the team well for the closing stages of the event. When coupled with the team's fourth-place finish at the 2007 season finale, enthusiasm for the '08 effort is high.

True to its nature, the No. 3 quietly demonstrated its strength from the drop of the green flag. After qualifying 18th, the Whelen-Loctite Daytona Prototype was forced to start from pit lane after a late decision to switch to slick, racing tires from grooved, rain tires. >From there, each of the four professional drivers put in double stints, focusing on the team's plan of moving to the front of the pack through pit strategy and trouble- free laps.

In the first stint, a double by Lewis, the red, white and blue machine worked its way into the top-20. Following Lewis, Christopher did two stints behind the wheel followed by Barron and then Lester. Barron worked the car as high as 12th before handing-over to Lester.

The veteran of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series was able to make major strides during his first, late night stint. Lester piloted the Lexus-powered entry into the Top-10 and as high as eighth before stepping from the No. 3 and giving the driving chores back to Lewis. As the most experienced sports car racer on the driving squad, Lewis continued the pursuit of the top-five and to regain a lap lost due to an early stop to remove tape from the nose of the car that was causing overheating.

The team was well positioned for the early morning hours until the first major obstacle hit the Powell, Ohio- based team. A combination of cold weather and cold tires caught NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Champion Christopher off guard when he took over for the second time at approximately 2:30 AM local time, Sunday morning. The resulting spin and contact forced the car to the garage area where the Mason Meredith-managed team made repairs to the rear bodywork. A second stop followed later when gearbox damage was detected. The car would return to the track and begin the fight back towards the front of the pack.

The race-ending accident took place just minutes after the 20-hour mark. Lewis was preparing to enter the "Bus Stop" chicane on the backstraight of the 3.56- mile, 17-turn course when, according to communications immediately following the incident, the car failed to respond to Lewis' input on the steering wheel. The No. 3 veered quickly off course and dug deep into the rain-softened soil just off the race circuit. The quick deceleration tore the nose from the car and drug it to a violent stop causing heavy damage. Lewis stepped from the car moments later and was taken to the infield medical center. After reporting some neck and back pain Lewis was transported to Halifax Medical Center.

At the time of writing, Southard Motorsports Crew Chief Richie Howe was examining several theories as to the mechanical failure that led to the rare "off" by Lewis. No definitive answer has been determined.

The No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley completed 527 laps, 1,876 miles over the 20 hours in which the car was running. Lewis set the car's fastest race lap (one minute, 44.932 seconds) on the car's 25th tour of the facility.

Steve Southard Owner: "First, we are obviously happy that Shane was not more seriously injured. It was a very violent impact. We are currently looking at what caused the accident. Richie is examining scenarios. Unfortunately, until we get the car to the shop and can properly exam every component and study the data, we can't be sure what happened to the car. As for the race, we put a strategy together to shuffle the driver lineup a little based on experience and when the drivers would get their first stint. Shane being the most experienced, we knew we wanted him to start. We put Bill in late in the day because he was the second most experienced and we felt he could go out for his first stint in the dark without any problem. Ted and Alex have less experience here or in these cars so we decided to have them run doubles in the daylight so they could be more comfortable when they had to get back in at night. Everyone went through their first couple of stints really well. I think if we had continued to run without problem we would have had a good result. We had a really great driver lineup but race situations present themselves and things happen. Unfortunately, a whole series of events happened and we'll never know what might have been. We just have never had that good of luck at Daytona. I am very happy looking ahead. We have a good driver combination in Shane and Bill and a car that works pretty well. I think we are going to have a good shot at doing well this year."

Bill Lester, Driver: "I was most impressed by the great determination of the team. They overcame many obstacles this weekend. It makes the driver feel really good to have a crew that puts a good car under you and to know that they stand behind it. I appreciate Steve and Martha for putting together such a strong team. I ran fast and consistent laps. The team gave me feedback that they were happy and that gives me a lot of pride. We were never the fastest out there but we continued to make progress. We need to get faster. We are going into the season and we need to find some more speed. I think that working with Shane is tremendous. He and I want the same things out of the car. I can't wait for us to get to Miami."

-credit: sm

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Series Grand-Am
Drivers Shane Lewis , Bill Lester , Steve Southard , Ted Christopher