Canadian wonderkind Raphael Lessard raced in the in the Super Late Models category with Kyle Busch Motorsports this season. He reviews the year with Motorsport.com.
A member of the Toyota Racing Development program, Lessard this year won the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway and the 52nd edition of the Red Bud 400 at Anderson Speedway.
Lessard, aged 17, drove the No. 51 FRL Express/Mobil 1/Toyota Camry for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
“I am quite satisfied with the way the season went,” Lessard told Motorsport.com.
“I always been in the fight for victory. I almost always ran in the Top 3. However, my car suffered from a few mechanical problems. It’s a pain, but there was nothing I could do. It seems the car was inevitably breaking down or I had a flat tire when I was running in the top three. Yes, it was a bit frustrating. I could have scored more wins this year. On the bright side, I always ran with the leading pack, and I raced with the top Super Late Model competitors.”
Lessard, who won the 2018 Bertrand Fabi Trophy awarded to the Québec driver who was the most successful on the international scene, admits he has improved a lot in 2018.
“I learned a lot this year," he added. "I think I am a better driver now than I was at the beginning of the season. I worked with the best crew chief and crew members at Kyle Busch Motorsports. I have to thank them all for that,” he said.
The young Canadian had some strong on-track arguments with competitors early the season, such as the pit area altercation he had with Brandon Setzer at Hickory Motor Speedway during a round of the CARS Response Energy Tour.
“Competition was always very intense, all year long,” he confessed.
“I can understand that some of my rivals were not really pleased to be beaten by a young guy from Québec in front of their home crowd. They retaliated by pushing my car on the race track, but I put my foot down and made it clear that if they wanted to play that game, I was ready to fight back. Since then, no one tried to shove me in the wall and were fought respectfully.”
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With French being his native language, Lessard had to work extra hard to succeed Down South.
“I want to improve my level of English," Lessard added. "I am getting better at explaining what the car does out on the track. With a better English, I could prove the guys with information that is much more precise."
“I also want to improve my knowledge of the mechanical aspect of a stock car. I am getting better at it, and I feel increasingly more confident at understanding the set-up of the car.”
The big question is what’s up for Lessard in 2019?
“I have new people helping me who are based in the U.S.,” said the kid who won his first stock car race at the tender age of 12, and became the youngest driver to ever compete in the Sportsman Québec series.
“We don’t know exactly what we’ll do next year. We’re working hard at it now. If I have a busy season, the plan is for me to move in North Carolina and to spend a good part of the season there, close to the race team. We think it would be essential for me to live there and be immersed in the world of stock car and NASCAR. Our objective is to race in higher series than the Super Late Models. I have the feeling I’ve proved enough things in the Super Late Models. We want to race in a series that features longer tracks and faster speeds. We’re in talks with potential sponsors and partners, because racing in these categories is very expensive.
“It would be good to stay with KMB because it’s one of the best teams in the NASCAR Truck series. For the future, that would be very good for me. The Truck races are broadcasted on TV, as the Super Late Models races were only shown on the Internet. For a sponsor, that’s critical, because he gets better visibility. We’ll see, but nothing has been decided yet.”
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