This week, we’re featuring the life story and career beginnings of Canadian stock car driver Raphaël Lessard, the young Quebec phenom who tomorrow begins his second full season in the NASCAR Camping World truck series.
Yesterday, we took a look at Raphaël’s 2017-2019 seasons and at his association with Kyle Busch’s team. Today, we return to 2020, his first full campaign in NASCAR’s truck series. It was a season that allowed us to see what we already knew: Raphaël is a tremendous talent.
A unique season
Prior to the 2020 season, Raphaël had competed in only five races in the truck series. That's not much, but fortunately he was able to rely on a top-flight racing team and on real practice time to master his art.
Then, the pandemic hit, upsetting all the plans that had been made at the beginning of the season. When action resumed in May, there was no more track time available for practices or qualifying. "It definitely hurt us because I didn't have a lot of experience to begin with. I had to learn things on the track, like how to manage the tires, how to know when not to push and so on. But I did work harder on other things, like spending time with the simulator, watching videos and asking a lot of questions every day.”
What we saw throughout the season from Raphaël is that he progressed; the results are there to prove it. The season consisted of 23 races and it took until the 11th one for him to record his first top 10 finish. From that point on, he hit that level seven times in the last 13 races, and that doesn’t include the Martinsville race at the very end of the season, in which he was taken out of with 10 laps to go while… leading the race.
And, of course, it includes his win at the Talladega superspeedway, in Alabama.
And how does the young man feel about his 2020 season? “Considering the situation with the pandemic, I would say that our goals were achieved, but we could have done more. Sometimes I made mistakes on the track, sometimes it was the team in the pits, but we win and lose as a team. Overall, I'm satisfied, but I know I can do better. But at the end of the day, I wanted to improve and I did. And the win in Talladega showed many people that I belonged.”
New team for 2021
Despite a successful season with Kyle Busch's stable, many were surprised to learn when it was over that Raphael would not be returning with the team in 2021. Internally, the fact was that “we knew during the season that we weren't coming back with Kyle Busch's team. Kyle wanted me to come back, but life decided otherwise. And having the chance to join the GMS team that won the championship last year, it's really exciting, especially knowing that they wanted me.”
A detail sheds some light on what often happens behind the scene in car racing: the agreement with Kyle Busch stipulated that Raphaël could offer his partners, like CANAC, the main sponsorship for only five races on the truck. “With GMS, there are no limits. So it's easier to find partners because we have something to sell.”
And so the table is set for the 2021 season that kicks off tomorrow. And it promises to be very interesting. Raphaël joins a top team and he’s shown that he can be fast everywhere. Really, there's something to be proud of, for him and for all of us.
Tomorrow, we take a closer look at what awaits him in this 2021 campaign.