Since making his way to the Southeast in 2016, Raphael Lessard has gone up against many challenges on the region’s Super Late Model circuit. The 2018 season brings a new set of challenges to the 16-year-old from Quebec, including adjusting to a new team, driving for one of the most well-known car owners in the land, and most recently a test of patience while waiting for the team’s next scheduled race.
That next race for Lessard will be the 42nd Rattler 250 at South Alabama Speedway, the season opener for the Southern Super Series presented by Sunoco, March 16-18. The race comes nearly two months after Lessard’s debut with Kyle Busch Motorsports at Crisp Motorsports Park during CRA SpeedFest in late January. While Lessard believes there is still a lot of team building left to do, he is eager to proceed.
“It seems like it’s been forever. I’m ready to go, I can’t wait for my second race with Kyle Busch Motorsports,” Lessard told Speed51.com. “We are going to be really good this year. We did really well at SpeedFest, we finished fifth together. We are learning how to work together and stuff, but I think we should still be very good.”
While it will be just the second race together with KBM, Lessard feels that the No. 51 team’s two recent wins with Kyle Busch at the Snowball Derby and Winter Showdown, coupled with Lessard’s positive Rattler debut in 2017, can be a winning combination. After last winning in May 2017 at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC) while still driving for David Gilliland Racing, his drive to win has never been higher.
“Last year was a really fun race, I think I finished eighth, even with motor issues. The plan is to win it this year,” Lessard said. “It’s been a long time since I won in the Super Late Models. I can’t wait to get back in victory lane, I miss it. Last year was hard on me but I tried to keep my head up and learn every race. This year we made a change to Kyle Busch Motorsports; it should be a good race.”
Although Lessard finished eighth in the 2017 Rattler 250, he came away feeling very happy with his performance and with a liking for South Alabama Speedway. Lessard is even using what he learned last year to help determine where he feels his car needs to be improved on from how it performed at SpeedFest.
“It’s an awesome race track, South Alabama, last year was really fun during the race, the second groove really worked well,” he explained. “At SpeedFest it was really hard to race. I fell back in the race and I think we had a really good long-run car, but it was so hard to make passes that I couldn’t get back to the front. Sometimes we take 30 laps to pass one guy because both the outside and inside lanes were so good. But the Rattler last year I came from the back and I just think it’s easier to pass there, so it’s a race track I like.”
Also serving as the season opener for the Southern Super Series, the Rattler 250 will pit many of the best in the Southeast and beyond against each other, which is exactly what Lessard and KBM are looking for.
“We want to race against the best and be able to learn from them. That’s how you can be the best.”
While posing for a picture with the rattlesnake is on the to-do list, Lessard is also hoping to use the weekend as a springboard into the core of the racing season.
“After (The Rattler) we are going to Myrtle Beach for the CARS Tour. If we can have a good run at the Rattler with Myrtle Beach the week after, it would be great to have momentum. I’m sure we’re going to have a good run that’s the plan. I’m just ready. I have been going to the gym everyday I’m not racing. I’ve been doing iRacing so much that it makes me miss the race car.”
Race fans unable to make it to South Alabama Speedway can watch the Rattler 250 on Sunday, March 18 right here on Speed51.com via a pay-per-view broadcast. Live video tickets can be purchased today by clicking here.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com