Entering Second Leg of Back-to-Back Weekends
No. 3 Lexus-Riley Earns Top-12 Finish in Mexico, Turns Attention to Virginia
Virginia may be for lovers but this weekend it will be for racers too. Virginia International Raceway (VIR) will play host to Southard Motorsports and the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series for Round Four of the Daytona Prototype (DP) season. The Bosch Engineering 250 at VIR is the second leg of back-to- back Rolex Series races for the No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley. In the first leg, the Mexico City 250 on April 19, Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) and Bill Lester (Atlanta, Ga.) drove to 12th overall. With each weekend, the combination of Lewis and Lester is coming together and finding its rhythm. The two drivers found a common ground in car setup almost instantly and now are finding a racing rhythm as well.
That rhythm will be critical at VIR. The track demands that each driver finds his own tempo with the track nestled in the hills of Virginia. That rhythm must then carry over to how the drivers interact with one another. Rhythm is also critical to the teams. The challenge of running back-to-back weekends in neighboring countries requires that everything flows together perfectly or you run the risk of it all coming apart. The Mexico City 250, run last Saturday, proved to be another strong push forward for the team. The No. 3 Southard entry qualified 10th but fell two spots in the final standings after the air wrench changing the front tires failed. The failure caused an extended stop dropping the red, white and blue entry out of the Top- 10. With back-to-back events, especially events that are so far from one another or the team's Powell, Ohio shop, the concern becomes damage to the race car in the first race. Lester and Lewis were able to bring home a competitive top-12 finish without damaging the car. In the process, the professional team learned a great deal about what might help them in future events. Furthermore, without the interruption of repairs, the Southard program can enter VIR this week in hopes of breaking back into the top-10 as they did with a ninth-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 29.
The southern Virginia track has been particularly strong for Lewis. He is a former holder of the KONI Challenge ST class track record and, combined with Southard Motorsports, has multiple top-ten finishes in the DP class.
Like the Mexico City course, the Virginia track is new to Lester. However, the circuit won't be completely alien to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series veteran. Lester, who raced much of his career in sports cars prior to switching to the ovals of NASCAR, ran the track's "short" course earlier this decade but has not competed on the full 3.27-mile, 17-turn facility. The full course will present new challenges.
VIR's tree-lined course has two distinct straightaways. The longest comes after a slow-speed hairpin requiring that the Riley-chassis puts down all the horsepower of the Lexus V8 as quickly as possible. A quicker exit speed here will help ensure maximum velocity at the end of the straight. This area has become critical in recent years to overall success on the Old Dominion track.
Television coverage of the Bosch Engineering 250 can be seen May 3 at Noon (ET) on SPEED Channel. Live timing and scoring of each session can be found at Grand-Am.com.
QuotesSteve Southard Owner: "The transporter will arrive in Virginia late in the week from Laredo [Texas] and we will then start the preparations for the VIR race at the track. There is no time to return to the shop so one of our goals for Mexico was to get back without any damage. We did that so the turnaround on the car will be routine. It's still a couple of days of work if there are no problems. Everybody's in the same position so it shouldn't be too bad. The lucky ones are those who escaped Mexico with no damage. The final set of tires we put on in Mexico weren't very good as the track went off the last half of the race. We also had an air gun go bad during one of the stops or we would have had a much better finish. Based on the last few races and how the team is working together we are very confident going to Virginia."
Bill Lester, Driver: "I have only raced the short course at VIR in a KONI Challenge, then Grand-Am Cup, Corvette. I did that back in either 2000 or 2001. Since our race will be on the long course and it will have been roughly eight years since I've been to the track at all, my biggest challenge will be to learn the course in the minimal track time the schedule has provided that weekend. I will be relying heavily on Shane to help accelerate my learning curve. I'm hoping that, at the very least, having run the short course will help acclimate me to the overall circuit."
Shane Lewis, Driver: (About Mexico City): "For sure, we are disappointed that we didn't finish with a top-10 in Mexico like we did at Homestead. But we were there in qualifying and we are all working well together. That is really encouraging. I think that shows what we have known since Daytona; the Southard team is putting it together. What is good for me to see as a driver is the overall performance improvement over last year. The team is really gelling right now. We still have a few things we need to sort out, like most teams, but we are getting there." (About back-to-back weekends): "These back- to-back weekends can really make or break you. If you have a strong run they can catapult you into the next weekend. If you have a bad one they can break your rhythm. I think we are somewhere in-between to be honest. We didn't have the race at Mexico City that we thought we might have but we loaded that Southard car into the trailer in one piece. That will keep us focused on VIR instead of trying to fix a broken race car and that is always a good thing." (About VIR): "VIR is a true driver's track but it combines the need for a really good car. It takes every trick in the book to get the most out of a race car at Virginia because there are so many different combinations of corners. It helps to have a car that can do it all. Low speed grip, precise transitional changes, good aero balance and massive straight line speed. Then you have to keep the Pirelli tires under you for a long run. I think that's why I have been so successful there. It takes every tool in my driver's toolbox to get the most out of the car. I've won a lot of races here at VIR and it's time to add a Rolex win to that list."