Pensacola, Florida, December 2, 2018 – Raphaël Lessard concludes his 2018 Super Late Model season with a heartbreaking retirement during the 51st edition of the Snowball Derby, an annual race held at the 5 Flags Speedway.
The grandstands were full for the most sought-after race of the season. The Snowball Derby, which usually ends the SLM season in the United States, is always the preferred race of the best drivers in North America. Lessard, who now counts three participations, was starting this 300-lap event in 10th place.
The Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce native didn’t stay there for long as by lap 7; he was already in 5th place. After 100 laps, and after a clean battle with teammate Noah Gragson, Raphaël took the lead for a little bit over 60 laps.
Pulling away from the runner-up, Jeff Choquette, the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) driver drove away from the leader’s pack, catching up the backmarkers, which he used to his advantage to create a more significant gap.
After losing the lead at the 177th lap, Raphaël and his Toyota Camry #51 FRL Express/Mobil 1/Toyota prepared by Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) stayed in the Top 3 behind Choquette and Ty Majeski. Climbing back up to the second place with 50 laps to go, he was getting pressure from Harrison Burton who was running on a fresh set of tires.
In a spectacular turn of event, a caution flag at the end of the race came out, allowing the leaders to come back on pit road for new tires. Raphaël lost a position during the pit stop, allowing Noah Gragson to go out before him. However, Lessard was in third, which was somehow a great position on the restart grid.
But with nine laps remaining, Lessard had to come back in the pits and end his race because of fluid leaking from his car. He finished the Snowball Derby in 25th position while his teammate Noah Gragson won for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
“ My car was perfect,” says Raphaël. “We dominated the entire race. I even lapped half the field, up to the 12th car and I had a gap of half a track between the runner up and me, it was incredible. The track started to change after my pit stop, and I couldn’t exit the corners properly. I was then running 3rd. The caution flag towards the end of the race gave me the perfect strategy, I exited the pits in 3rd place, while my teammate Noah was 2nd. I knew I was faster than him and that I was going to pass him and probably win the race. However, the last caution flag came out with just a few laps remaining, and the officials spotted that my car was leaking fluids onto the track. I had to come back in the pits. It was a missed win that we should have gotten.”
“I want to thank my parents, my sponsors FRL Express, Mobil 1 and Toyota, and a special thanks to Kyle Busch Motorsports and my crew chief Cody Glick and my agent Christopher Biby. We dominated during the Snowball Derby, which is no small feat, and we are leaving with our head held high. I also need to thank the investors in my limited partnership, and all the fans who came out to watch the race at La Cage-Brasserie Sportive and le Resto l’Express.”
2018 season recap
This season was marked by new experiences for the young driver who raced on a street course, at the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières in the CSCC series, for the second time. Lessard also participated in many events throughout the United States and Canada, mainly in the CARS Energy Response Tour, the Southern Super Series (SSS), the ARCA/CRA, Pro Late Model at the Jukasa Motor Speedway in Ontario and in NSACAR Late Model during the Bacon Ball at the Autodrome Chaudière.
He claimed two victories this season, the first one during the Short Track U.S. Nationals 100 at the Bristol Motor Speedway, and the other one during the 52nd running of the RedBud 400 in Winchester. Lessard finished 4th in the CARS Response Energy Tour standings with only 8 starts in the series (the champion ran 9 races).
His achievements earned him the Bertrand-Fabi Trophy presented by Auto Sport Québec (ASQ) last October in Montréal. This prize is awarded every year to a Québec-bord driver who thrived internationally.
See you in 2019 !