Raphaël Lessard, the young driver from St-Joseph-de-Beauce, pursued his quest for victory at the Orange County Speedway in North Carolina, but had to settle for 9th place during the Mid Atlantic Classic, a 150-lap race in the CARS Tour series, featuring a new racing format.
A first for the CARS Tour, the new format, called "stage racing", featured a total of four stages; 35 laps, 65 laps, 35 laps and finally a 15-lap sprint, each separated by a 5-minute break allowing teams to work on the cars or change tires.
“It was a strange race format,” said Raphaël, “I thought it was a bit too long, they should have done two segments instead of four And a 15-lap segment doesn’t give you time to do anything…”
The Toyota Camry #99 FRL Express/Toyota-TRD/JBL Audio prepared by David Gilliland Racing had a great start, moving up from 12th to 8th position in just a few laps. Lessard finished the first 35-lap segment by battling with Steve Wallace for 5th position.
During the 65-lap segment, Raphaël had an even greater battle with Wallace, as Lessard wanted to conclude this stage at a hard fought 4th place. Changing his 4 tires during the break between the second segment (65 laps) and the third segment (35 laps), the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) driver had to surrender one position at the restart. In this new format, drivers who change tires have to relinquish a position to those who did not change any or changed fewer than you. For Lessard that put him back by one spot therefore, starting the third stage in 5th place.
Throughout the third stage, things heated up for Raphaël. During this segment, he made contact with the wall, which threw him back a few spots, to 10th before making his way back up the field, completing this segment in 6th place.
Taking off from 6th position for the 15-lap final dash, and competing with the best drivers in the segment, it seemed clear that a Top 5 finish was certainly attainable. But it was not in the cards for Lessard unfortunately. With two laps remaining, a yellow flag spiced things up further. Raphaël was not able to maintain the tempo finishing in 9th.
“It was a good race and we had a great car to start with. But my contact with the wall clearly didn’t help, and I lost a lot of power then. A competitor forced me to climb high on the banking, which resulted in me sliding on the accumulated rubber marbles. We were missing power to take us to the next level, but I am extremely grateful to the team and their hard work. Special thanks to my family who came from Beauce to see me race this weekend,” said Raphaël.
Raphaël’s next race will be August 6th as he heads to the Winchester Speedway in Indiana for his final ARCA race of the season.