to Put Season Back on Track
Lester and Lewis Hope New Track Gives No. 3 Edge in Grand-Am's Penultimate Event
It isn't often that a series with the roots that the Grand- Am Rolex Sports Car Series enjoys comes to a facility that none of its competitors have ever turned a wheel at. However, Sunday's Supercar Life 250 on the brand new Thunderbolt Raceway will be the first professional event held at the New Jersey Motorsports Park. The new scenery may be just the thing that Powell, Ohio-based Southard Motorsports needs entering the last two races of the 14-race Daytona Prototype (DP) season. The No. 3 Southard Motorsports Lexus-Riley is coming off its only mechanical failure of the year at last weekend's Infineon Raceway and drivers Bill Lester (Atlanta) and Shane Lewis (Jupiter, Fla.) look to the new 2.25-mile, 14-turn facility in Millville, N.J. as just the ticket to regain their momentum.
No. 3 Southard Lexus-Riley sees even footing in New Jersey. Image by Juha Lievonen. For a smaller team like Southard, the break to compete against the more heavily funded teams at a track new to everyone presents the opportunity for the skills of the drivers, engineer and crew to overcome the near constant testing and development of the larger teams. It is an opening that no one involved with the sixth year DP team wants to let pass. With no pre- event testing at the track by any of the teams, the 250- mile or two hours and 45-minute race promises to benefit those who can get up to speed quickly. Every lost moment to learn the quickest line through a corner, or something as simple as whether the next turn is a left or right will multiply itself throughout the weekend.
The team that gets its drivers comfortable and quick on the new track the fastest will be the team with the upper-hand. Both Lester and Lewis enjoy a remarkable gift to learn tracks quickly. Lester, now in his rookie season of Grand-Am competition, had only raced on a handful of the tracks on the '08 schedule. However, the longtime road racer has been a quick study finding the rhythm at each new circuit within the first session. From the start of his career Lewis has always been a quick learner. He earned the right to compete in his first 24 hour race (held at Nelson Ledges in Ohio) by winning the pole position in a car he had never driven on a course he had never seen. He went on to win that first career sports car race in convincing style.
The Steve and Martha Southard (Powell, Ohio) owned operation has enjoyed several strong events in 2008. The addition of NASCAR veteran Lester to the lineup alongside multi-time Grand-Am race winner Lewis has brought the team its best driver combination in several seasons. The pairing of the two with the small but professional group at Southard Motorsports has provided several top-ten finishes and three led races. However, despite often running in the top-five, the red, white and blue No. 3 has been plagued by multiple gremlins in the closing stages of races this year. While not race-ending, the issues have cost Southard Motorsports valuable position at the finish. In total, the team has been running at the checkered flag in 10 of the 12 races held to date - Daytona due to an accident and Infineon where a half-shaft broke are the two missing full-race runs.
Practice begins for the Supercar Life 250 with a promoter's test day on Thursday, August 28. The first official practice comes on August 29 with qualifying to set the grid at 1:50 on Saturday, August 30. The first Daytona Prototype race at the New Jersey Motorsports Park comes on Sunday, August 31 at 1 PM (ET).
Live television coverage of the Supercar Life 250 can be seen on SPEED beginning at 1 PM (ET), August 31. Live timing and scoring of each session can be found at Grand-Am.com.
QuotesSteve Southard, Owner: About expectations for the Supercar Life 250: "We are looking at this as a good opportunity. The new track is going to be difficult for everybody. We'll all have a difficult time right out of the box. We're probably as good as anybody when it comes to drivers who can figure out a new track. With what has been happening the last couple of races just finishing a race in a strong position would be good. We'd like to go to New Jersey and get a decent finish. That is our goal. Plain and simple."
About the goals for the remainder of the season: "The last two races aren't going to be easy. The last two tracks are new to Bill. That is going to add to our struggles some. We are all working hard to get the best result out of these two races as we can. If you can do that, you forget all about the work that went into it."
Bill Lester, Driver: About being a part of the inaugural New Jersey event: "It's definitely exciting to be part of an inaugural event. There should be a lot of interest in this event from the racing community at-large since the track is brand new. Performing well here can do our race team a world of good since there should be a substantial audience both in attendance as well as tuning in on television."
About expectations for the Supercar Life 250: "I believe that a new venue provides a level playing field. Since there are no setup notes from the teams nor track familiarity from the drivers, we are all going to be starting from scratch. I think that this will benefit us at Southard Motorsports since everyone will have the same learning curve to negotiate."
About preparations for New Jersey: "To prepare for this track I went onto the Internet and tried to find some in-car video. This tends to be a great learning tool. I also studied the detailed track map so I'll have an idea of the flow of the circuit. Once there, I'll take full advantage of the test day to try to piece together the track from behind the wheel."
About the goals for the remainder of the season: "As the season winds down, it would be a huge disappointment if we didn't achieve at least one top- five finish. A win at this point is probably unrealistic but I personally believe that our Southard Motorsports team is capable of a top-five. That should be our goal."
Shane Lewis, Driver: About expectations for the Supercar Life 250: "In some respects it's a good thing we are going to a track no one has raced at. No one has an edge from the years prior or from testing. That puts us on an equal footing. As a team we have been going in new directions in setup and we haven't gotten it down to a science yet. We don't have as much information as I would like to make changes quickly on a track we still need to learn. This will be a lot of work for the team and the drivers."
About preparations for New Jersey: "You can never learn a new track by a flat track map on a sheet of paper. You can only really know the track by putting in some laps. If it was a track that had been raced on many times I would be searching out video or data on the track. Since it's new to most everyone, I have to do it the old school way and just do it when I get to the track."
About being a part of the inaugural New Jersey event: "You always want to be the first to win an event at a new facility. No one ever forgets that; not the fans, not the officials and certainly not the other drivers. There is also something special about being the first professional series at any track. You never know what will happen, that's for sure. It will be a memorable race no matter what."
About the goals for the remainder of the season: "I am really trying to help the team get on the podium this year. The crew has worked so hard and I want that so bad for them. I also want to take our momentum into '09 with the things we are still learning. I know if we continue to work as hard at the last two races as we have all year, we can go into '09 really looking good."