Southard Motorsports Enters the Heart of the Grand-Am Schedule in the Heart of Dixie
Lester and Lewis Look to Put No. 3 Riley into DP Top-Five in Birmingham Heat
As Southard Motorsports starts into the heat of the summer it is also breaking into the heart of the Grand- Am Rolex Sports Car Series. What better place to step into the heat than in the "Heart of Dixie" at Birmingham's Barber Motorsports Park?
Despite being just two races beyond the mid-point of the season, the schedule is quickly striding towards the final checkered flag. The ninth of 14 races on the Daytona Prototype (DP) class schedule, the Barber 250 presented by Bradley Arant is the second in a string of events that will take the No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley through to the final event in quick succession.
The Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) owned team has proven it has the pieces in place to compete at the sharp-end of the DP field with top-10 finishes and leading the most recent round at Daytona with Grand-Am winner Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) and veteran NASCAR driver Bill Lester (Atlanta). Now the team, feeling so close to its breakout event, must face the heat of the Alabama summer and one of the most hotly contested motorsports classes in the world as it sets its sights on adding to its Grand-Am podium tally.
The mid-season surge of events began with Southard Motorsports' home event, the June 21 event the Mid- Ohio Sports Car Course, then traveled to Daytona on July 3 where the No. 3 Lexus-Riley led the pack and challenged in the top-10 for most of the day. Only a late-race hit there by a GT class car would keep the Southard team from their season-best finish. The Barber event marks the third race in five weeks.
Upcoming dates will take the Powell, Ohio-based team from Alabama to Montreal (August 1), back to Watkins Glen with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (August 8), to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. (August 23) followed by the premier of the New Jersey Motorsports Park (August 31) before closing at Miller Motorsports Park and its 1,000 Km event on September 20. The heat is most certainly rising and team performance on the track and preparation off will be critical for this final charge to season's end.
The 2.3-mile, 16-turn Barber complex is among the most impressive motorsports facilities in the world. It is meticulously kept and impressively outfitted with top working conditions for the teams and amenities for the spectators. The track itself winds through the green woods of central Alabama. Much of the course twists and turns on itself putting the ongoing action directly in front of the fans for much of the lap.
While ideal for the onlooker, the track brings a host of challenges to the teams and drivers. Key among the obstacles is that each turn on the 16-corner course is unique forcing a compromise in setup and driving style. While enjoying multiple straightaways, the critical front stretch, while long, is bracketed by two nearly 90-degree turns entering and exiting the straight. The compromise in setup requires a sleek aerodynamic arrangement for the straight but enough downforce to handle the tight turns on either end.
The "infield" portion of the course further demands concessions as a tight 180-degree hairpin connects two shorter straights. The long back straightaway is "broken" by a left-right combination that funnels drivers onto another shorter straight before entering the collection of final, wider radius bends and a narrow penultimate turn. The final 90-degree left- hander then slows the entire field again. The course offers multiple areas for intense in-class competition and even more extreme intra-class action between the purpose-built DPs and the street-based GT cars.
For Lester, his first trip to Barber Motorsports Park will mark a near homecoming for the DP "rookie". Birmingham is a quick drive west from Lester's home in Atlanta. To mark the nearness to home, the former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standout will be joined by his wife, Cheryl, for the first time this season. Despite this being Lester's debut on the course, the expert road racer has shown his ability to get up to speed quickly on new tracks multiple times this season.
The combination of Lester and Lewis, who has been competing in a Southard DP since 2004, has proven strong from the first race in January. The two have combined for a season high-result of ninth (Homestead-Miami Speedway) and one other top-ten finish. They have regularly qualified and raced within the top-ten leading one lap in the July 3 race at Daytona International Speedway with Lewis behind the wheel.
Television coverage of the Barber 250 presented by Bradley Arant can be seen live on SPEED beginning at 3 PM (ET). Live timing and scoring of each session can be found at Grand-Am.com.
Bill Lester, Driver:
About his expectations:
"Barber is a track I've never raced on before and I find that both exciting and a bit intimidating. It's hard to be on pace with a quality field of cars and drivers when there's such limited track time and most of your competition already knows the course. My focus will be to get on pace as quickly as possible and run a solid, error-free race."
About the intense upcoming schedule of races:
"I am looking forward to some continuity at the race track. You've got to remember that I'm used to racing virtually every weekend from my NASCAR days. I maintain a rigid fitness program so the physical demands are nonexistent and the only mental challenges I face are, again, trying to conquer all of the upcoming tracks that I'll be seeing for the first time."
About racing close to his home in Atlanta:
"Barber will be the first Grand-Am race that my wife, Cheryl, will be coming to this year. I'm especially excited about that since she's been so supportive throughout my career. Since this race is so close to home, our plan is to leave the kids behind so she can fully take in the environment of Grand-Am without any worries as to the whereabouts of our two young sons. In that respect, this race will almost be like a weekend getaway for us."
Shane Lewis, Driver:
About Barber Motorsports Park:
"I think the reason every driver likes Barber Motorsports Park is not only the layout of the track but the high standard the entire facility is held to. The moment you drive up to the front gate you know this place is special. From the landscaping and on-ground artwork to the challenging layout of the course itself, this is a first class facility. Even though it is not an especially long road course, every corner has a unique way it needs to be driven. You need a good car here as well as good pit stops and, hopefully, a good rain setup, just incase, to be successful at Barber."
About maintaining momentum:
"Momentum is an important part to any successful team. I really think Daytona was our spring board to an even better second half of the season."
About the intense upcoming schedule of races:
"The middle of July all the way through the end of August will be quite a schedule. Not only do we have a full schedule of Rolex events with the Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley, but I am also racing a full season of Koni Challenge. This means for the next month and a half I am racing every weekend and sometimes in two different states in the same weekend. I have to balance staying ready with my fitness routine with getting enough rest to recuperate and prepare for the next event. Sounds tough but I really love this. I wouldn't want to do anything else. Is there a mid week test day I can do?"