Southard Takes First Top-10 of '08 Grand-Am Season at Homestead No. 3 Lexus-Riley Runs as High as Fifth, Finishes 9th with Lester and Lewis HOMESTEAD, Fla., March 29, 2008 - Southard Motorsports placed itself solidly as a top-10 contender in the...
Southard Takes First Top-10 of '08 Grand-Am Season at Homestead
No. 3 Lexus-Riley Runs as High as Fifth, Finishes 9th with Lester and Lewis
HOMESTEAD, Fla., March 29, 2008 - Southard Motorsports placed itself solidly as a top-10 contender in the 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 Daytona Prototype (DP) class this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (HMS). The No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley opened the weekend with a top-10 run in the first practice session and stayed there throughout the weekend. Multi-time Grand-Am sanctioned event winner Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) and Series rookie but motorsports veteran Bill Lester (Atlanta, Ga.) closed-out the weekend with a strong ninth-place finish in today's GAINSCO Grand Prix of Miami. The Southard Motorsports entry ran in the top-five near the race's midpoint before taking the checkered flag with their highest finish of the two race-old season.
In the ultra-competitive Grand-Am DP Series, breaking into the top-10 can be a challenge for smaller efforts such as the Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) owned program. However, a focused plan of attack put in place over the winter is already paying dividends. New bodywork on the Riley chassis and a second year program with the Lexus engine are proving strong investments. The addition of Lester to the organization may be the greatest boost yet to the program. Lewis, the longtime team driver, now has his first professional co-driver since he led the group to two podium finishes in 2006.
Ambient temperatures in the mid-80s and track surface temperatures in excess of 122 degrees (Fahrenheit) challenged the physical endurance of the drivers and the crews. The draining temperatures can force mental errors and exaggerate poor handling conditions of the cars. The heat led to the second major obstacle of the day: caution flags.
The race ran to a maximum two hours and 45- minutes instead of its 250 mile distance due to nine caution periods that dramatically slowed the event. With only 70 of 99 laps run under green flag conditions, Lewis and Lester were not able to put in the sustained, full speed runs that benefit two professional drivers. Through an excellent pit strategy, Southard Motorsports was able to take advantage of the cautions to gain in pit lane. The pit strategy combined with hard driving and keeping the No. 3 out of harm's way, Lewis was able to climb from his tenth- place starting position up to fifth in the race's first half.
Lester's stint behind the wheel- which started with a pit stop during the sixth caution period, one hour, 44 minutes into the race- was fraught with three extended cautions. In total, Lester had 29 minutes of his 61 minutes of driving taken away by yellow flags. When under green he gained positions until a late race penalty for overtaking on a re-start temporarily dropped Lester out of reach with the leaders. However, the penalty had little overall impact on the final position of the car. In the end, the No. 3 would finish just over 31 seconds behind the winning machine, ninth in class, ninth overall in the two class race.
The 2.3-mile, 11-turn road course has traditionally been strong for the Powell, Ohio-based team. Their first Daytona Prototype race came here at HMS in 2003. Lewis won the KONI Challenge ST race here last year and held the ST class track lap record for several years. Lester, who was making his Homestead-Miami road course debut today, has numerous oval starts at the south Florida track in NASCAR.
Southard Motorsports will have its next opportunity for victory on April 19 at Mexico City, Mexico. SPEED Channel will provide live television coverage beginning at 4 pm (ET).
Steve Southard Owner: "It was a good race. I think a lot of credit goes to the team and to Buddy Fey [engineer]. We learned a lot during the test here and they spent a lot of time working on the car based on that information. When we unloaded from the trailer here it was about as fast as it was all weekend. We tried a few things that didn't quite work out and we went back to that basic setup to start the race. Strategy really played a big role here this weekend. We made the right calls and the yellows came out at the right time. We didn't have a top-five car; we had a top-10 car and that is where we finished. Everyone at Southard Motorsports is looking forward to going to Mexico City. Shane did very well there last year. Bill has never been on the track there but I am not worried about that. The way these two drivers like the car is very similar and I know Bill will be right up to speed. It's time to go racing."
Shane Lewis, Driver: "I am happy. We qualified and finished in the top-10 competing against some of the best teams in sports car racing. Steve and Martha have always been committed but they really stepped it up again this season putting me in with another pro driver, doing the new bodywork and a lot more. I think it is starting to show and starting to pay off. Our next goal is the top-five and then to get back on the podium and stay there. This was a really encouraging race for us and I'm looking forward to Mexico City."