Southard looks to keep forward progress for No. 3 Lexus in Laguna Seca
Lewis, Lester and Southard Have Strong Ties to Legendary Monterey Facility
There is a singular mission at Southard Motorsports: keep the No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley at the sharp end of the highly competitive Daytona Prototype (DP) field. Entering Saturday's Rum Bum.com 250 at Raceway Laguna Seca, drivers Bill Lester (Atlanta, Ga.) and Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) have twice brought home the Powell, Ohio-based machine in the top-10 of the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series. The 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course on the Monterey (Calif.) Peninsula is an ideal setting for the Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) owned team to keep the program's progress moving forward with the team's first Grand-Am Rolex Series overall victory. Athletically, the track fits the driving style of both the team's drivers. Mechanically, past experience there in many different forms of the sport benefits the team's preparations. Emotionally, the hillside facility holds a special place in the heart of both veteran drivers and the longtime team owners.
The intangible of emotion is often the determining factor in motorsports. For Lewis, the most experienced road racer in the group, Laguna Seca's sweeping corners, elevation changes and the legendary set of turns known as "The Corkscrew" was the site of his first professional race win (Bridgestone Supercar Series, 1994). Lester watched his first pro race in Monterey in 1969 witnessing the ground- pounding rear-engine, Can-Am cars. Steve Southard, now retired from professional driving, brought his Coca-Cola Porsche 935 to the celebrated Monterey Historics in 1998. Like all who drive the course the owner of both TrueChoice Motorsports and PAP-Parts has it forever etched in his memory and his heart. While emotion may provide that extra tenth needed to win, it is the professional approach of the team that puts the drivers in the position to win. The weekend is about far more than cherished memories. It is about making new ones. Since the season-opening event, the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January, Southard Motorsports has shown the strength of its organization. While the intensely contested battle between the top DPs is constantly moving the bar, the Southard effort has been able to gain significantly in 2008. The addition of veteran NASCAR driver Bill Lester to the established potency of Lewis- a multi- time Grand-Am event sanctioned race winner- has given the squad a tough one-two punch that it has lacked in recent seasons. The two drivers ask for a similar setup in the American-built Riley chassis and have been able to get the most from the Lexus V8 mounted just behind their heads. However, the final ingredient to gain those last few critical tenths of a second has been missing. Engineer Buddy Fey and crew chief Rich Howe have spent the last two weeks working with Southard, Lewis and Lester to narrow that speed gap. The program hopes that what they have found will make the difference beginning at the northern California track.
The program suffered from a late race accident, caused by a mechanical failure, at the Rolex 24 At Daytona that dropped them from a top-eight position to a frustrating 17th in class. They rallied at Round Two, in Homestead-Miami (Fla.) to take their first top- 10, ninth, of the year. The back-to-back races at Mexico City and Virginia International Raceway added a 12th and 10th respectively. As it stands, Southard Motorsports is tied for 11th in the team championship just seven points out of the top-ten. Drivers Lewis and Lester are tied for 13th in the driver point chase the same deficit out of the top-10 that the team is.
Television coverage of the Rum Bum.com 250 can be seen May 18 at Noon (ET) on SPEED Channel. Live timing and scoring of each session can be found at www.Grand-Am.com.
QuotesSteve Southard Owner: "We have had some breaks come our way and we have finished fairly well. There is still room to make improvements to the car and make it faster. We have been just narrowly off the pace and hopefully we can find that time at Laguna."About his favorite memory at Laguna Seca: "My favorite memory was the first time I came to Laguna in 1998. Porsche was the featured marquee at the Monterey Historics and I brought a 935 to the event. You really need to drive something at speed on the track to fully appreciate this place. The people and the fans are really great on the Peninsula."About his unique method of travel to Laguna Seca: "Martha and I took a different route to Laguna as we came through the Panama Canal on a cruise ship. The canal passage was the highlight of the trip. The canal is really one of the seven wonders of the world."
Bill Lester, Driver: "Our engineer, Buddy Fey, has been working overtime to give Shane and I a well balanced car with lots of grip. So I'm optimistic we'll have what we need to be competing in the front end of the field for a top-five finish."About his favorite memory at Laguna Seca: "My favorite memory of Laguna Seca was when I saw my first professional race there in 1969. The event made an impression on me that I'll never forget. It was a Can-Am race and I still remember the McLarens, Lolas and Chaparrals fighting it out and how mesmerized I was by the sights and sounds of that race."About his favorite part of racing at Laguna Seca: "Without a doubt, my favorite part about racing at Laguna Seca is the infamous Corkscrew. There's no other series of turns like it and getting through there quickly and intact is key. I'm also looking forward to going there because this will be my first professional race back in the Bay Area since I ran an IMSA GTO event in 1989. Needless to say, I'll be excited to have lots of family and friends in attendance."
Shane Lewis, Driver: "I absolutely love Laguna Seca. The track has it all; great turns, gorgeous location and incredible fans. Every track gets the competitive juices going but Laguna is one of those tracks that you get just a little bit more excited about going to. We have run well at Laguna as a team and I think we can do that again. We have been running pretty well lately and all the guys are working hard to find that little bit of extra speed we still seem to be missing. Our crew chief, Rich Howe, is having his first baby this weekend so he won't be at the track with us. It will be tough not having him at the track but we are doing this one for Richie and Jen."About his favorite memory at Laguna Seca: "My first professional victory came at Laguna. That was really special for a lot of reasons. I was racing against factory teams and highly financed teams so I know that if I could do it then we can take Southard to its first professional victory at Laguna too."