Raphael Lessard’s sponsor is perhaps best known for their snowblowers. It turns out they make airport brooms as well.
Perhaps the young Quebecer had that in mind at Autodrome Montmagny.
Lessard wheeled the familiar Larue Motorsports No. 48 entry to victory in Saturday night’s American-Canadian Tour Can-Am 200, winning his first ever ACT Tour race and the first ACT Tour feature at the speedway in over twenty years.
And combined with Jonathan Bouvrette’s win earlier this year at Autodrome Chaudière, Lessard completed a home-province sweep of the ACT Tour’s two points-paying trips north of the border.
Montmagny is a familiar name to racers through the Northeast. The 3/8-mile oval an hour north of Quebec City has hosted the Northeast Pro Stock Association and Pro All Stars Series, and was a staple on the schedule of ACT’s cross-border sanctioning partner, the Série ACT. The Série ACT was dissolved after 2017; its successor, the Championnat de Stock-Car Canadien, hosted four rounds of its 2018 championship battle at Montmagny.
But not since eight-time ACT Tour champion Brian Hoar won at the speedway in 1999 had a race been contested under the Vermont-based Tour banner.
Maxime Gauvreau led the 30-car field to the green flag for the 200-lap contest, with Lessard battling through traffic to run second early on. Rookie Alexendre Tardif moved to second in a three-way battle for the runner-up slot, but when Gauvreau slipped up the track on a lap-66 restart, Lessard leapfrogged the two to take the lead for the first time. Lessard showed the way until a lap-87 caution paused the race for a controlled fuel stop.
On the restart, Lessard held point while Gauvreau faced a new challenger in ACT Tour points leader DJ Shaw. A thrilling battle in the top five kept several drivers in the mix for second when a spin for Yvon Bedard slowed the race pace at lap 135 and gave the leaders an opportunity to pit for tires.
Jean-François Déry and Patrick Laperle brought the field back to the green flag, with Lessard and Tardif working traffic to get back to the front. Déry and Laperle held strong for several laps, but fresher tires gave the young racers the advantage over the veterans as they assumed the lead in the final quarter of the race. Shaw joined the party as well, looking for his second Tour triumph of 2022.
But the final 24-lap green-flag sprint was a duel between Lessard and Tardif, with Lessard hanging on for his first ACT Tour win in only his second start with the series.
“Fireball” Tardif, a podium finisher at Oxford Plains Speedway in July, earned another career superlative with his runner-up finish. Shaw rounded out the podium, second-best among Tour full-timers.
Early leader Gauvreau drove back to a fourth-place finish, with Laperle hanging on for fifth.
Rookie Cody LeBlanc, one of only three drivers to cross the border for the big race, finished 13th, while sophomore Erick Sands was 18th in the final rundown. Chaudière winner Bouvrette was 22nd after a wreck eliminated him along with teammate Mathieu Kingsbury. Fellow Quebec full-timer Rémi Perreault also exited the race early and was scored 27th.
Tardif’s runner-up finish helped the rookie advance to second in points, but Shaw still holds onto the points lead with a commanding 124-point advantage. Erick Sands, the only other driver to start all three races, sits third in the standings, with Bouvrette and Derek Gluchacki fourth and fifth. Six drivers have attempted the full seven-race slate so far, but the two Canadian races have thinned the field of championship contenders.
While the Larue Motorsports team has a long history with ACT Late Models, Lessard’s experience with the platform is fairly recent. Hailing from Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce, only a few miles from Chaudière, Lessard took the plunge into Super Late Models with the Pro All Stars Series in 2015. Only thirteen years old in his first PASS start, Lessard ended the season seventh in points despite being too young to compete in a few events.
Lessard’s performance drew enough attention to earn him an opportunity racing in the South, an opportunity that yielded a handful of Super Late Model wins and a NASCAR Truck Series ride. But despite a 2020 win at Talladega, Lessard’s Canadian sponsors were forced to cut back in 2021, prematurely ending his season.
Undeterred, Lessard returned to Quebec, hooking up with the potent Larue team that boasts current NASCAR Xfinity Series competitor Alex Labbe among its graduates. Lessard won last summer’s Tom Curley 250 at Montmagny, named for the late founder and promoter of the ACT Tour, while competing regularly at Chaudière. Lessard also made three starts in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series, winning back-to-back races at Sunset Speedway in Ontario.
Lessard made his ACT Tour debut in April at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, finishing 21st after wrecking with Woody Pitkat with nine laps to go. Since then, Lessard has kept his schedule north of the border, running the bulk of the Pinty’s Series schedule.
For this season, points matter little to Lessard.
But for a young driver trying to stage a comeback to NASCAR’s big leagues, wins speak loudly.
Unofficial Results, ACT CAN-AM 200 at Autodrome Montmagny:
1. (48QC) Raphael Lessard
2. (21QC) Alexendre Tardif
3. (04VT) DJ Shaw
4. (17QC) Maxime Gauvreau
5. (91QC) Patrick Laperle
6. (21TN) Jean-François Déry
7. (54QC) Dave Coursol
8. (90QC) Zachary Fauteux
9. (19QC) Dany Trépanier
10. (66QC) Simon Roussin
11. (72QC) Louis-Philippe Lauzier
12. (18QC) Jean-Philippe Bergeron
13. (7NH) Cody LeBlanc
14. (9MX) Yvon Bedard
15. (37QC) Dany Gariepy
16. (15QC) Christopher Bedard
17. (110QC) Olivier Labbé-Pelletier
18. (36NH) Erick Sands
19. (40QC) David Michaud
20. (14QC) Max Taillefer
21. (9QC) Mathieu Kingsbury
22. (41QC) Jonathan Bouvrette
23. (55QC) William Larue
24. (11QC) Claude Leclerc
25. (3QC) Sylvain Lacombe
26. (56QC) Charles Bernier
27. (33QC) Rémi Perreault
28. (00QC) Martin Fauteux
29. (88QC) Dave Trevors
30. (47QC) David Gagnon