Toyota Racing Development (TRD) driver Raphaël Lessard closed out a busy three-race week on a high note, claiming a third-place finish in the 125-lap CRA Series Level Pebble 200 race held at Flat Rock Speedway, in Flat Rock, Michigan earlier this evening. The St-Joseph-de-Beauce, Québec, native was awarded the third-place finish after the car belonging to race winner, Scott Hantz was disqualified on tech inspection for having an illegal suspension.
Lessard arrived in Flat Rock intent on bettering his two top-10 results of Sunday and Wednesday nights which he scored in Winchester, Indiana and Kalamazoo, Michigan.
After running sixth quickest in the afternoon practice session with a fast lap of 12.601 seconds, Raphaël managed to improve during the qualifying round, knocking another 0.076 seconds off his lap time and recording a 12.525 second lap on the very short quarter mile oval (0.25 mile/0.4 km). Unfortunately, many of his competitors also went quicker during qualifying, and despite shaving valuable milliseconds off his lap time, Raphaël lined up tenth on the starting grid.
The driver of the Toyota Camry #99 FRL Express/Toyota-TRD/JBL Audio prepared by David Gilliland Racing, got off to a slow start dropping back two spots to 12th by lap 5, but moved back through the pack to 9th position by lap 8, where he remained for the next fifty laps.
“We were struggling a bit during practice and qualifying, we were having a few problems with the car,” said Raphaël. “At the beginning of the race I was just trying to find the best line around the track. On a short track like this there are no straights and you are constantly circling. I found a line that began to work really well for me and stuck to it.”
When a yellow flag came out on lap 63, Raphaël began to move up the field, quickly settling into sixth place. But it was an adjustment made to the car during a yellow on lap 78 that allowed the talented young driver to make up valuable positions and over the following 15 laps, he climbed steadily from sixth to first place where he led two quick laps before being pushed off his line and dropped back to fifth place. With less than a dozen laps remaining, Lessard was able to gain one position before the chequered flag was waved.
“The change we made to the car really helped and I got onto my line and began moving,” he added. “I was able to get by everyone straight to the front of the field. But there was a lot of bumping happening and I was pushed to the outside line and dropped back. But I am very happy with the way we ended this race and this week.”
Lessard will now be making a move to the Mooresville, North Carolina home of David Gilliland Racing where he will live and train for the remainder of the season. His next race will be on August 26 when he will participate in the CRA Battle of Berlin 251 in Marne, Michigan.