Raphaël Lessard announced with great fanfare on November 15, 2019, that he had reached an agreement to race full-time in the NASCAR pickup truck series within the renowned Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) team.
However, almost a year later and despite his brilliant victory in Talledega two weeks ago, the young Quebec driver is not yet fixed on his future. Lessard obviously wishes to continue his association with KBM, knowing full well that in motor racing, talent is unfortunately not enough. Money is the sinews of war.
“There are a lot of things moving,” said Lessard, in a telephone interview with Le Newspaper. “Nothing is settled yet, but my ultimate goal is to come back full time with KBM. ”
“It will depend in particular, he says, on Toyota’s decision [et de sa filiale TRD]. I know his leaders want to keep me, but it’s still too early to confirm my place next year. A victory like the one in Talladega does not hurt, he continues. My value is on the rise. “
A crucial period
Lessard’s adventure is a question of big money. According to our information, of the approximately 3.2 million US dollars that KBM requires for a “turnkey” steering wheel, Toyota is paying about a third of the bill. This support is essential.
The rest of the funding comes mainly from Quebec sponsors and especially private investors, who come from the region of Quebec and Beauce, where Lessard is from.
These business people not only have in common the fact that they are successful in their professional lives, but also that they are fans of auto racing. However, in the particular context of a pandemic, everything is called into question.
These enthusiasts do not hesitate to come and encourage their young protégé. They gather there to have a good time together on the circuits and even to share meals with Lessard and his parents. But, since March, COVID-19 has prevented them from establishing this privileged contact.
“You are right to say that at this time of year, we are entering the final sprint of the negotiations,” said Alan Labrosse, a close advisor to Lessard. “But everything is turned upside down because of the pandemic. I would tell you that our discussions are only at a preliminary stage. His agent in the United States, Chris Biby, is also busy with the case. “
“We must first wait for Toyota’s decision and its managers’ assessment of Raphaël,” added Labrosse. I know they think highly of him. Our talks are limited, however. We meet people there, but we don’t go to the races at the moment. Virtual dating is not the ideal solution. “
“These investors support it,” noted Labrosse, “not only because they like the kid, but also because of their love of sport. Another aspect to consider, the pandemic did not have the same effects on their respective companies. Everyone will have to assess the situation and take the necessary decisions for the 2021 season. “
One thing is certain, the KBM team would like to entrust one of its shuttlecocks to Lessard next year. On the other hand, if this organization is very strict in its choice of pilots, we should not expect gifts from it. Especially since other promising young drivers, who enjoy colossal family fortunes, are ready to take over at any time.
Now we have to hope that the situation will recover as quickly as possible and that other sponsors, if necessary, come forward to secure the future of one of the most talented pilots of his generation. He deserves his place.
A 25th start
On Saturday afternoon, Lessard will be making his 25th start in the NASCAR pickup truck series and his first since his victorious run at Talladega two weeks ago.
The 19-year-old, who will start from tenth on the starting grid, will not be on new ground in Kansas, having raced there twice earlier this season. He was ranked 16th and 11th on July 24 and 25 respectively.
“We’re going to go to Kansas with completely different settings,” Lessard says. We hope that these changes will bear fruit. During our last two appearances on this track, the grip was not optimal. The cool weather forecast for Saturday may make it easier for us. “