HARD WORK PAYS DIVIDENDS, BUT RACE ENDS EARLY FOR SOUTHARD MOTORSPORTS AT THE 2007 ROLEX 24 AT DAYTONA
Daytona Beach, FL (Jan. 28, 2007) – Southard Motorsports made a top-notch effort just getting the No. 3 Preformed Line Products Lexus Riley to today's 45th running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona. But Lady Luck played her hand and ended the day early for the Powell, Ohio based team, whose talented driver lineup included Shane Lewis, Elliott Forbes-Robinson, Graham Rahal and Randy Ruhlman.
With just two weeks to get ready, the team worked feverously to prepare a brand new race car for the Rolex 24 At Daytona after their primary car was severely damaged in testing. The team worked through a couple of minor new car issues during practice on Thursday and Friday and got the No. 3 car prepared to take a 23rd starting place in the 71-car overall field for the twice around-the-clock race.
Shane Lewis took the green flag and began the team's impressive move up through the field. Each driver did a double stint in the car with Elliott Forbes-Robinson taking over driving duties at the start of Hour Three. As the sun began to set, newcomer Graham Rahal took over and the first full-dark stint fell to Randy Ruhlman. Through quick laps and heads-up driving, the car moved up to run around the 15th position--falling back on the pit stops and moving back up on the track--against the highly skilled field of Daytona Prototype drivers.
With the start of the second round of driver rotations, a great night of competition was anticipated. Shane Lewis took over and moved out of the pits with the car feeling strong and smooth. But as he made it to Turn 5, suddenly all stopped. Lewis moved off the track and was forced to get a tow back to the pits. The highly skilled crew raced to the paddock area to meet the car and fix whatever was needed to get the car back into competition. Unfortunately, when the crew checked the engine, they found that it was terminal. Of all the problems that can be fixed during a twenty-four our race, an engine may not be substituted, by rule, and the team--who had made such a valiant effort to "Make the Race"--was forced to retire early from the 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"With our experience as a team, I had complete faith that not much could stop us from finishing the Rolex 24," said team owner Steve Southard. "The crew worked incredibly hard to get the new car here and ready to race, and it was running really well. Unfortunately, we just aren't allowed to change an engine. Otherwise, we certainly would have. It is such a shame; we had great drivers, good pit strategy, and a fantastic crew and were looking forward to another successful 24-hour race. It's just bad luck today, but we won't let it get us down. We will definitely be ready to show what we have in a few weeks at our next race in Mexico City."
The Rolex 24 At Daytona, in its 45th year of running, is the premier endurance race in the United States and was run at the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. A record 79 past Champions were in the driver lineups for this year's 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona, including Southard Motorsports driver Elliott Forbes-Robinson. Competing the driver lineup for Southard Motorsports were full season drivers Shane Lewis and Randy Ruhlman, both long-time veterans of the sport with diverse sprint and endurance series experience, and Graham Rahal, who has amassed an impressive list of accomplishments for a driver who just celebrated his eighteenth birthday.
While driver Shane Lewis has marked over twenty-three 24-Hour races to his credit and this was his ninth appearance at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Elliott Forbes-Robinson is a two-time winner overall of the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 1997 and 1999, and a class winner in 2000. The other two drivers, Ruhlman and Rahal have extensive race experience, they both made their Rolex 24 At Daytona race debuts last year, Rahal in a GT car and Ruhlman in a Daytona Prototype.
Shane Lewis is widely considered one of the sports leading development drivers and has competed in twenty-three 24-Hour Races--nine-times in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, three-times at Le Mans and twice at Nürburgring. Always a fan favorite, Lewis earned two Daytona Prototype podium finishes with Southard Motorsports in 2006, at the Long Beach Grand Prix and Phoenix. He has multiple wins in the Rolex Sports Car Series and Grand-Am KONI Challenge Series and was the 1998 Professional Sports Car Racing Rising Star award winner.
Ruhlman has been a professional driver since 1990 and has extensive racing experience, predominantly in road racing in the Trans-Am Series, as well as in IMSA, ASA and the NASCAR short track series. Last year, Randy Ruhlman drove the No. 40 Preformed Line Products Daytona Prototype for Derhaag Motorsports. Ruhlman was the top American driver in the 2005 Trans-Am Drivers' Championship, holding the points lead throughout the season and scoring a pair of wins--the season opener at the Long Beach Grand Prix and the Cleveland Grand Prix. Ruhlman was named the 2005 BBS "Most Improved Driver of the Year" and makes the record books as fourth in Top Ten finishes in Trans-Am history.
Graham Rahal just turned eighteen, yet has already established himself as one of the US’s brightest motorsports talents. As the runner up in the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic Championship, Graham scored five victories (more than any other driver) and became the youngest ever-Atlantic race winner. Beginning in Karts, before spending a season in Formula BMW at age fourteen, Rahal moved on to the Star Mazda Championship where he stood on the podium in six of twelve races and became that series youngest ever race winner. Graham Rahal's success last year in Atlantics, which included 14 season records and the BBS Rising Star award, is propelling his motor racing career toward competing in the 2007 Champ Car World Series.
Besides two overall wins at the Rolex 24 At Daytona (in 1997 and again in 1999) and a class win in 2000, highlights of Forbes-Robinson's long career include: an overall Championship in American LeMans, a co-championship in Can-Am, the 1982 Trans-Am Championship, and four wins in the Rolex Sports Car Series. During his thirty-year tenure in racing, Forbes-Robinson has won races in five different decades and completed in IMSA GTU, SuperVee, Pikes Peak Hill Climb and World Challenge. In 2006, he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
Earning its first-ever Manufacturer’s Championship in 2006, Lexus registered seven victories on the way to capturing the Daytona Prototype crown and scored it’s first-ever triumph in the prestigious 2006 Rolex 24 At Daytona. Over the past three seasons and forty Rolex Series events, Lexus-powered entries have taken twenty-one pole positions and won fifteen races
Preformed Line Products (PLP) is an international manufacturer and supplier of hardware and support systems for the communications and energy industries. Products include COYOTE® Fiber Optics and VORTEX® Vibration Dampers used in the telecommunications, cable and energy industries. Manufacturing facilities are located worldwide in the USA, Canada, China, Brazil, Mexico, England, Spain, South Africa, Australia and Thailand.