Montréal Circuit an Honor to Race but No Walk in the Park for Southard Motorsports
Lester and Lewis Look Forward to Racing in Canada as The Glen Looms
Motorsports is a sport of tradition. Yet, in only its second season, Friday's Montréal 200 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montréal, Quebec, has taken its place among the elite facilities on the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series schedule.
The track's deep history as Canada's premiere motorsports operation, its namesake, Canada's most famous race driver, Gilles Villeneuve and no-mistakes-allowed configuration, have made this event among the most desired trophies in Daytona Prototype (DP) racing. Despite its importance, as drivers Bill Lester (Atlanta) and Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) lap the No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley, the honor of the opportunity will pale beside the desire to earn the Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) owned team its breakthrough finish for the 2008 season. Notwithstanding its surroundings, the facility is no walk in the park for the Powell, Ohio-based team.
Southard Motorsports No. 3 on track. Image by Juha Lievonen Including this weekend's event, five races remain in the 14 race Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series for Southard Motorsports to step forward from regular dark horse to expected contender. No matter the venue, the challenge is always the same in the tightly contested Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series: fight for every position while keeping the car in one piece. Finding the balance between aggressive driving to gain positions and defensive driving to keep the car from serious damage is a critical component to racing in the DP class. However, the back-to-back schedule that Southard Motorsports finds itself in puts a premium on the drivers' ability to find that tipping point. Friday's Canadian round is but the second in a five race steak across six weeks. Lewis and Lester must pay close attention to keep the car off the hard concrete walls as they look ahead to next Friday's Crown Royal 250 at Watkins Glen and beyond. Every repair demanded of the crew to get the car back on track will diminish the time to drawing the most out of the car's performance on the track.
While technically being permanent, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is more similar to a temporary street course in its nature. The overview shows several long straights but the 2.709-mile track hides several sharply angled corners, many of them blind, and narrow or nonexistent runoff. While the 15-turn Circuit Gilles Villeneuve can breed intense competition it will equally hand out disappointment. In 2007, Southard Motorsports, with lead driver Lewis, was running near the top of the running order for much of the day. However, the multi-time Grand-Am race winner was caught-up in an incident not of his own making when another Daytona Prototype driver overshot his braking point hitting the No. 3 from behind. The result, while not race-ending, did end any chance for a podium finish for the effort as the car fell off of the lead lap waiting to be restarted.
Despite last year's disappointment in Montréal, Lewis has a long history of success in Canada. The list includes a unique double-duty Grand-Am race at Mont- Tremblant in 2002. Lewis was entered in two different cars in two different classes in the same six hour event. He opened the race in a GTS class Mustang handing over the Saleen to his co-drivers at the race's midpoint. That car went on to finish third in the class. He then stepped into a GS II class Audi to finish the race. The Audi won the class making Lewis the first Grand-Am driver to earn two podium finishes in the same race. Lewis adds to his Canadian tally with a World Challenge victory at the Trois-Rivières facility in 1998.
Lester will be making not only his Montreal debut this week but his Canadian debut as well. The veteran racer has never competed north of the United States' border despite an extensive background in NASCAR, Grand-Am and SCCA competition. His experience and research into the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve promises to make the transition time as short as it has at other venues he has seen for the first time this season.
Tape-delayed television coverage of the Montréal 200 can be seen on SPEED beginning at 8 PM (ET). Live timing and scoring of each session can be found at Grand-Am.com
QuotesSteve Southard, Owner: "Good strategy and some bad luck on the part of the competition have gotten us in the position for good finishes in the last couple of races. To get a podium will require more pace in the car and we have been struggling looking for that pace. Our biggest challenge at Montreal will be to find a quick enough pace. Shane ran well here last year and Bill has never been to the track. He is a quick study at unfamiliar tracks and I don't see that as a problem. Hopefully we can find a little pace and put on a good show for the fans."About racing at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve: "Montreal has lots of motorsports history and I was impressed with the track last year when we ran here for the first time. The fans are great and turnout in large numbers for the race."
Bill Lester, Driver: About racing at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve: "From the sheer perspective of the history of the track, I'm looking forward to competing on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. I've watched many Formula One races here and this track always seems to host exciting races. I've always marveled at the finesse required to negotiate the last turn before coming on to the frontstraight and enjoyed watching the late-braking, overtaking maneuvers that occur at the hairpin turn at the end of the backstraight."
About his expectations: "I've never even seen the track in person, let alone raced on it. I'm anticipating another test of my driving skills. I'll need to come up to speed quickly and learn the limits and establish a rhythm with the circuit. Since track time will be at a premium only increases the challenge I'll have in front of me. However, I won't be afraid to rely on my teammate for advice and direction since Shane has experience here."
Shane Lewis, Driver: About racing at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve: "This is a real honor. There is no other way to put it. I think it shows that the Daytona Prototypes have become the prestigious form of sports car racing in the world. We race at some of the best tracks in North America and to be able to run at a Formula One facility takes us to the next level. The excitement of this doesn't go away. I am just as excited this year as I was debuting here last year."
About the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve: "It is really a street course even though it is a semi-permanent facility. The angle of the corners, the tightness of the corners, the blind corners, are all like a street course. Not to mention if you make a mistake or something goes wrong here the consequences are the same as at a street course. Your day is probably done. We were running up front last year with a great shot at a top-five, maybe a podium, and we were just clobbered from behind. We got going again but by then we were one lap down. Racing in the Rolex Series is intense enough but on these types of tracks it just goes to another level!"
About what Southard Motorsports can bring from its strong of successful events: "We've learned so much about certain types of tracks; Daytona, Barber. Now we are going to another different type of race course. We're going to have our plate full. We need to focus all of our attention on doing well here. The change to Pirelli tires has changed certain things but, even as well as we did last year, we are actually going in a completely different direction on setup this year. So, we can't draw too much from last year's strong run here. Instead, we have to look at the last few races; see what we did well and try and maximize that. Maybe more importantly we need to see what we didn't do so well and try and minimize those mistakes. It's that simple; right?"