Laguna Seca Grind to Finish 12th
No. 3 Lexus-Riley Runs Strong Despite Damaged Aerodynamics Before Late Race Stop
Raceway Laguna Seca has long been a favorite of Southard Motorsports drivers Bill Lester (Atlanta, Ga.) and Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) as well as team principals Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio). For most of Saturday's Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series' 250-mile race it appeared favored status would increase to preferred status.
The No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-powered Riley ran comfortably within the top-five for over half the event. However, in the end, the Southard Lexus-Riley was not immune to the carnage which swirled around them. At the start, the 'dive planes'- aerodynamic pieces used to direct airflow and increase downforce- were ripped from the car when a competitor swept across Lewis' nose. The loss of these key aerodynamic aids would hamper the effort's move to run with the leaders but Lewis kept the car firmly in the top-five. It was a late race pit stop that would lose the team track position; track position they were not able to recapture due to the loss of front downforce. The troubled stop would drop the effort to 12th at the checkered flag.
The event was plagued by eight caution periods, a total of 27 laps in all. The combination of too few consecutive green flag laps and the trying handling challenged Lewis for the first two-thirds of the event. He charged the red, white and blue machine from ninth to fourth with one hour remaining in the 98-lap event on the famed 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course in the Monterey (Calif.). The Powell, Ohio-based team, which has a career high of third, twice, in the Daytona Prototype class, had already performed one masterful pit stop to get Lewis back on track still competing in the top-five. However, it was the second stop that ended the impressive performance. With approximately one hour remaining in the race, Lewis brought the Southard machine in for its final servicing of the day and a driver's change. Just before entering the team's pit stall, the No. 3 skidded on gravel that had been left in a competitor's pit area. The scenario could have proven much worse but the multi-time Grand-Am race sanctioned winner was able to bring the car safely to a stop without hitting the pit wall or any of his crew. Lewis jumped from the ride only to find that, as a result of the skid, the car was too close to the pit wall for the Southard organization to change tires. They acted quickly to push the car into position and complete the stop but valuable time and track position was lost.
When Lester, a Grand-Am rookie but veteran road racer and former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series regular, returned to competition for the final stint of the day, the team was outside the top-15. While he worked to gain back spots, he was not able to close on the leaders due to the lack of front downforce. The team would finish the race 16 seconds behind the winning No. 2 SAMAX entry and 3.9 seconds out of 11th. Despite the trials, the team finished on the lead lap.
Television coverage of the Rum Bum.com 250 can be seen May 18 at Noon (ET) on SPEED Channel.
Southard Motorsports will have its next opportunity to score a Series victory at the Six Hours of the Glen on June 7. The classic American endurance race run at Watkins Glen International in New York is Round Six of the 2008 season and another event in which Southard Motorsports has excelled in recent seasons.
QuotesSteve Southard Owner: "All-in-all it was a good weekend. We moved forward with the handling of the car so that is very encouraging. We had a really good qualifying run. Shane moved-up pretty consistently from the start of the race. Through that and pit stops we were as high as fourth. Laguna Seca is one of those tracks that has a lot of dirt and debris on it and that breeds caution periods. We had a little trouble in the last pit stop and had to reposition the car to change the inside tires. Track position at Monterey is everything and losing those spots in the stop hurt us. Along with the caution periods that kept Bill from making it back up to where we were running. We tend to run a little better in the longer races so we anxious to get to Watkins Glen for the Six Hour. We are also anxious to hear about our crew chief Richie Howe. Laguna was the first time that Richie hasn't been with us at the track and we missed him. So, we are also anxiously waiting to hear if Richie is a dad yet."
Shane Lewis, Driver: "There was so much gravel in the pit stall before me when I turned to go into our stall I got on the brakes and it locked-up. When it came to a stop I was too close to the wall. I didn't know I was that close and the guys couldn't change the inside tires. I didn't know the gravel was there. I am really disappointed and I take full responsibility for it. The crew guys came up to me and told me it wasn't my fault, don't worry about it but I am the guy driving the race car and I feel really bad about it. The Southard Lexus-Riley was really good today and we were feeling good about where we were. This is one of those really frustrating and disappointing situations. But, it doesn't change that we have a great program and that we are on a real roll. We'll get right back to it at Watkins Glen in a few weeks. I am confident in that."