Raphaël Lessard reflects on his 2017 season
Young Canadian racer Raphaël Lessard just concluded his second season of stock car racing in the US. He talked to Motorsport.com about his overall performance.
The 16-year-old who resides in St-Joseph-de-Beauce, Québec continued to race for David Gilliland Racing in the Southern Super Series, PASS, ARCA-CRA Super Series and CARS Tour in 2017 while making his debut in the ARCA series.
“I always do my best, but we've had some bad luck and mechanical problems,” said Lessard, a member of the Toyota Racing Development program. “A differential split in half one time, and then the engine just shut itself down. For that reason, we couldn’t reach the finish line and that’s costly. I’m generally satisfied with my performances, but mechanical components do break from time to time. That’s racing.”
Lessard enjoyed his moments of glory, like when he claimed victory at the Hickory Motor Speedway and when captured pole position at Bristol Speedway in May. However, he endured three consecutive DNFs late September and early October. One competitor in particular had the bad habit of hitting his car.
“Yes, it’s hard racing out there, but I have to plant my foot down. If someone plays hard with me, I’ll be making his life difficult later, you can be sure! The older drivers, like Bubba Pollard for example, have massive experience under their belts and I learnt a lot by racing against them. During the recent Snowball Derby, Kyle Busch sometimes ran in front of me and I noticed the few little tricks he’s using. That was a tremendous learning experience.”
It taught me about staying focused and not getting discouraged
The teenager who contested 23 races this year feels that he has progressed a lot as a driver. “I think I am a better driver now. For example, I learned to be patient when the car was not perfectly set-up,” he said. “I learned to adapt myself quickly to a car that’s not running perfectly. I discovered how to extract the most out of the car, despite its few handling problems. I learned to find a faster line around the track. Sometimes the track was colder at certain places and I started to run higher to maintain more speed. All this helped me improve the quality and the accuracy of the feedback I was giving to the crew chief. I can now explain more exactly what the car’s doing in every corner.”
Lessard added that he truly enjoyed running longer races. “I contested some longer races this year and I really enjoyed them! I really liked the fact to be able to improve the handling of the car during the pit stops. It taught me about staying focused and not getting discouraged if the car was not running too well. I’ll be contesting more and more long races in the future, and it’s good that I really like that race format.
“The last race I ran was the 300-lap, Snowball Derby early December. At the beginning of the race, the car was not really good and I drove as smoothly as possible. I lost a few places, but I did not worry about it because I knew I was saving my tires. Near the end of the race, I re-passed a few competitors and made it to 6th place before a few guys started to play hard, and I eventually finished ninth. But that’s okay, because I was really happy with the way I ran my race.”
A change in mentality
The young driver said he was really happy to see Alex Labbe win the NASCAR Pinty’s Series’ title. “It’s really great news to see Alex [Labbe] climb the stock car ladder. I raced against him in the past and he’s a good friend of mine. It motivates me to see him win championships and graduate to a faster series. I hope he will reach the top level of NASCAR competition one day and that I’ll be racing against him! I think there’s change in mentality in the stock car community. I think that ten years ago, a young Canadian couldn’t have been part of a team like David Gilliland Racing. I’m also ecstatic to have the support of TRD. When I started racing, I never expected to have the support of a major car constructor like that! I’m really happy to see that these major players in stock car racing believe in our talent.”
What’s in the books for Raphaël Lessard in 2018? “Toyota will support me a little more financially in 2018. I cannot confirm the series I will be competing in yet. My agent Robert Desrosiers is in talks with Toyota about next season. I’m glad I’m also getting the support from some business people and companies from my home region. We shall have some good news to unveil soon.”
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