17 After Extended Stop Drops Them From 6 Hour Top-10
Broken Heat Exchanger Damages Lester and Lewis Effort at The Glen
Southard Motorsports entered Saturday's sixth round of the 2008 Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series season with high expectations. The Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins International was the kind of race that the Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) owned team was looking for to solidify its place as a top contender for victories in the Daytona Prototype (DP) class.
All aspects of the program have been coming together in 2008 including the addition of motorsports veteran Bill Lester (Atlanta, Ga.) to drive alongside sports car racing champion Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.). "The Six Hour", one of the world's premier endurance races, seemed to provide the mix of track and race duration that plays to the strengths of the No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley. However, a leaking heat exchanger would drop the effort from the race's top-ten two hours into the event to 17th at the checkered flag.
Continued massaging of the already strong organization and a recently discovered chassis setup tweak seemed to mark the 3.4-mile, the 11-turn "Long Course" at Watkins Glen and its six hour classic the perfect stage to earn the team's first Grand-Am Rolex Series victory. The Powell, Ohio-based team has proven a legitimate front runner at each of the events during the year thus far and had always performed well at Watkins Glen. In Friday's qualifying, Lewis placed the No. 3 Lexus-powered Riley chassis in the top-10 on the grid. With six hours of racing before them, the program looked poised for its best result of the season. Then came the call: "I have low water pressure." Lewis' radio transmission from the cockpit during the pace lap seemed to echo across the rolling hills of Watkins Glen, NY. The team responded to continue and monitor the situation. The Lexus V8 performed well moving Lewis as high as third and comfortably within the top-10 through the early stages of the caution-filled event. The team's first driver change came one hour and twenty minutes into the race. Despite concerns of the water pressure, Lester maintained the car's position until the red warning lights flashed again that the water pressure was dropping further.
Just short of the two hour mark Lester returned the red, white and blue machine to pit lane and the attentions of the Rich Howe-lead crew. The Southard Motorsports technicians were able to establish that the heat exchanger- a peripheral engine component used to maintain a consistent temperature between the engine's oil and water- was damaged and had been leaking water slowly since the command to start engines. Working under the repressive heat of both the summer conditions and the V8 racing engine, the Southard crew replaced the faulty piece and returned the car to competition in approximately 20 minutes. Now 12 laps down to the overall leader, the race strategy for the No. 3 changed dramatically with just over half the race distance remaining.
The focus for the Southard squad now was to turn consistent but conservative lap times to maximize what could be learned from the day at one of the sport's most hallowed facilities. With a 200 mile, DP- only event on The Glen's "short course" coming in early August, "The Six Hour" became not only an important race to score points for the season-long championship, but a real-world test session as well. The effort by the professional group proved well founded. Having dropped to 38th overall, 19th in class, the No. 3 fought its way back to the 17th highest running Daytona Prototype and the 29th car overall at the end of six hours.
Next, Southard Motorsports returns home for the seventh race on the 2008 schedule; The Emco Gears Classic presented by Key Bank at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course in Lexington, Ohio is only minutes from the Southard Motorsports shop in Powell, Ohio. The track is also the spiritual home of TRUECHOICE Motorsports (TRUECHOICE.com ), the motorsports safety, parts and accessories company founded as part of the motorsports group owned by racing legend Jim Trueman. Trueman's family still owns and operates the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Today, Steve and Martha Southard own TRUECHOICE which offers online and onsite sales of the world's leading brands in racing product and equipment.
QuotesShane Lewis, Driver: "The minute I went out there I had a water pressure warning. I had never seen that in all the time I have driven this car. We hoped it would adjust itself once we were running but we all knew that something was up. I went through my entire first stint and it wasn't getting any better. Bill was out there on his first stint and it just got worse and worse. The heat exchanger broke and was slowly leaking the water out. We had to replace that and that is what took us out of the running. When you get that far down you want to get the most out of it that you can but you are going to run a conservative deal. You want to make up as much ground as you can and make as many positions as you can but you have to be smart. There is nothing to be gained by racing the leaders or trying to turn qualifying-type lap times. This is just really frustrating. We were doing pretty well despite the problem. The Southard team did a great job. That is a hot piece to replace and the guys did it in record time. From then on Bill and I just wanted to stay out of trouble and get laps in. That is not the way we want to go racing but sometimes that is what you have to do. The phrase is 'make lemonade', right? We just tried to make lemonade."