Looking for First '08 DP Podium
Infineon Raceway Like Home to Lester and Lewis
The hills wrap around Sonoma's Infineon Raceway like the grape vines that have made this region of Northern Calif. famous. Within those hills hides not only the secret of making great wine, but also great wins. On August 23, Southard Motorsports will attempt to break the code and earns its first podium of the 2008 Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype (DP) season at the Armed Forces 250. The Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) owned effort holds two career top-three finishes in the series and has led three events this season. However, thus far in '08, the No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley has been hit by a number of late-race gremlins that drivers Bill Lester (Atlanta) and Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) look to overcome during Saturday's race of 250- mile or two hour and 45-minute, whichever comes first.
No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley by Juha Lievonen Infineon Raceway is, in many ways, a homecoming for the drivers. Lester and Lewis have each spent much of their formative life in California with many of their early career starts coming on the 2.52-mile, 12-turn track. While the course has undergone significant changes since that time, it remains a favorite to both multi-time Grand-Am event winner Lewis and NASCAR veteran Lester.
The track joined the Rolex Sports Car Series schedule in 2006 but the drivers began logging laps long before that. Lewis earned a World Challenge victory here in 1996 on his way to runner-up in Drivers' Championship that season. He also has a top-five in class at the 2002 American Le Mans Series race and several more victories and podiums in lesser categories at Infineon. Lester, who is best known for his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series successes, was an established road racer prior to the move to ovals. In SCCA competition, while working in California, Lester won the SCCA Series Northern California Region Rookie of the Year in 1985 and followed that one year later with the GT-3 Regional Road Racing Championships in '86.
Many of those early events that Lester won were at either Raceway Laguna Seca - where the No. 3 finished 12th in May - or here at Infineon Raceway, then known as Sears Point Raceway. It was at Infineon that Lester got his first career victory in '85. Both drivers and team are eager to regain the momentum lost during the August 8 Crown Royal 200 at Watkins Glen. The Powell, Ohio-based operation struggled through that event when changing weather conditions played havoc with the team's strategy. Thus far in 2008, Southard Motorsports has captured three top-ten finishes.
Practice begins for the Armed Forces 250 on Thursday, August 21. Qualifying to set the grid of Daytona Prototypes will take place at 4:30 on Friday. The green flag will fall on the cars at 3 PM, Saturday afternoon. All times are local, Pacific time.
Television coverage of the Armed Forces 250 can be seen, tape-delayed, on SPEED beginning at Noon (ET) on August 24. Live timing and scoring of each session can be found at Grand-Am.com.
QuotesSteve Southard, Owner: "Regaining the momentum we had really shouldn't be a problem for us. The car was undamaged after Watkins Glen and the turnaround was done in short order. The hardest part is yet to come. We have to come out of California undamaged and be in New Jersey in four days. We had to hire an additional truck driver just to make it happen legally. This part of the schedule is really not the best. Coast to coast in four days and two races is insane. The guys had a long weekend and a couple of days off but they will be putting in some long hours during the next week and half."
Bill Lester, Driver: About his expectations for the Armed Forces 250: "Since I have familiarity with the track, it gives me added confidence going to race here. Unlike a lot of tracks that I've competed on this year, I already know which way the turns go and have an appreciation for the elevation changes and the track's rhythm. I'm looking forward to coming back to this track that served as a cornerstone for my driving career. I intend to leave it having gained renewed fondness for the track."
About Infineon Raceway: "I haven't driven on the track in over 15 years but I venture to guess that I will find it as technically challenging as it was in the past. When it was Sears Point, it was a track that demanded a good setup with a premium on mechanical grip. My expectation is that my experience racing there will be similar to that of Laguna Seca whereby I found the turns came up a whole lot faster than I remember them from before."
About his memories of Infineon Raceway: "I have fond regard for the track. It happens to be the track where I got my first race win in 1985 driving an SCCA GT-3 Mazda RX-3. What made it especially memorable was that I won the race on Mother's Day and my mother was with me when I won. I'll never forget giving her a ride on my victory lap with her waving the checkered flag. Sears Point was also the site of my first professional race in 1989 during an IMSA GTO event. Fortunately, I don't have any bad memories here."
Shane Lewis, Driver: About Infineon Raceway: "One of the main reasons I like racing at Infineon is that is has real character. Even with all the changes the track has gone through, it still remained a driver's track. You have to have a good car but you also need to be on top of your game as a driver. We get to race some of the original configuration. The NASCAR and IRL boys just don't know what they are missing!"About the back-to-back races: "For me, it's actually a good thing to race this much. I keep sharp by driving and racing week-in and week-out. I did the Koni race in Trois-Rivieres since the DP race so for me I am in driving heaven. The truck driver and the crew are the ones working the hardest. Fortunately, we left Montreal and then the Glen with the car in really good shape. No major things to repair. I am sure the crew, as well as Steve and Martha, are extremely happy about that."
Note: Lewis also has been competing in the KONI Challenge Series which saw competition in both Iowa and Trois-Rivieres immediately following the Watkins Glen race.
About regaining momentum: "I don't think we'll have any problem regaining our momentum at all. Our performance at the Glen could have easily gone the other way. We were just on the wrong tire at the wrong time. Leading laps at the races prior to the Glen is still with us and still keeps us motivated."
About his memories of Infineon Raceway: "The best and the worst memory at Infineon was actually on the same weekend. I was driving World Challenge in the final race of the championship. I had a strong points lead going into the second-to-last race. There was a political issue with the car I was driving and some stuff that I had no control over. When we came to Infineon, I would have had to put the car on the pole, run the fastest race lap and win the race with the other team finishing eighth or worse; impossible by everyone's standards. But I didn't see it that way. I drove probably one of the best races of my life. I did all of the above plus drove the car to a track record for the pole and track record for fastest race laps. I won the race but the other team finished seventh. I missed the championship by one point but everyone knew I was on a mission. I will never forget that weekend. It taught me patience for things I have no control over and it taught me to be a force in a car like no other."