By DON SIMPSON
The third edition of the GP3R Urban Challenge was held this past weekend with great fanfare. The heat was once again a big factor as teams worked through the two days of hot, humid conditions, taking their toll on all. The weather also produced some heavy showers to add to the complications. But the results in the feature event saw a dueling battle between Raphael Lessard, Samuel Charland, and Alex Labbe. Lessard, in the end, would outdrive them all to win.
On the opening qualifying day at the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières (GP3R), teams were met with a challenging scenario as they sought to secure favorable positions on the starting grid. The day was characterized by a flurry of activity as teams scrambled to adapt their car setups and address any necessary repairs following the culmination of the final practice round.
During the attempt to secure the best grid positions, four teams experienced motor losses, intensifying the competition. These unexpected turns of events added an extra layer of complexity to the qualifying sessions, requiring teams to swiftly strategize and make critical decisions to maximize their chances in the upcoming race. The GP3R’s first day of qualifying became a showcase of the resilience and adaptability of the participating teams, showcasing their ability to navigate unforeseen challenges and continue pushing the limits of performance on the demanding Trois-Rivières circuit.
On the second qualifying day, anticipation and excitement reached a crescendo as teams geared up for the much-anticipated feature race scheduled later in the day. The morning kicked off with a thrilling spectacle known as the Super Pole Race, a high-stakes battle that pitted the top twelve drivers from the previous day’s time trials against each other in a head-to-head showdown. With the coveted pole position on the line, these elite drivers showcased their precision and determination as they pushed their machines to the limit on the challenging Trois-Rivières track. The super pole race not only added an extra layer of drama to the qualifying proceedings but also offered a tantalizing glimpse of the fierce competition that would unfold in the main event.
As teams and drivers vied for the most advantageous starting positions on the grid, the stage was set for a gripping and adrenaline-fueled feature race that promised to captivate fans and deliver a memorable spectacle of speed and skill.
The one criticism made by all teams on day two was the long period of waiting between the morning’s race and the feature. The wait was 8 hours, and the teams had to wait in the heat of the day before rolling their cars out to the starting grid for the feature. But for a few teams, this wait allowed them to repair. Ron Fellows lost breaks in the hairpin, forcing him into the tire barrier. This long delay gave the team time to repair after this on-track incident during the Super Pole race in the morning.
Nascar Truck champion Raphael Lessard and Nascar Xfinity driver Alex Labbé joined the regular Urban Challenge drivers for the event. Lessard, who won the super pole race, led the pack as the feature race got underway, with Labbé in a close second.
There were several yellow flag incidents during the feature, but on the return to green, Lessard pressed forward to take the lead each time. Late in the race, Samuel Charland came into the fray with a three-way battle between Lessard, Labbe, and Charland.
None of the top three could prevail as the race unfolded, but a second heated battle for fourth and fifth would ensue between David Hébert, Maxime Plante, and Marc Antoine Camirand.
During a late race restart, after another yellow, Labbé overtook Lessard in the first corner and moved into the lead. But Labbé would receive a penalty for running into a traffic cone while leading. There was a yellow flag with two laps remaining.
It was on this final restart that Raphael Lessard showed his dominance, pulling into the lead and opening up a marginal lead between second and third. Lessard would charge across the finishing line to take the win, with Charland in a distant second and Alex Labbé rounding off the top three.
The top five were rounded out by an impressive performance from Marc Antoine Camirand, who skillfully maneuvered his way to fourth place. Following closely behind was teammate David Hebert, who secured an admirable fifth-place finish.
After two previous attempts, Raphael Lessard was ecstatic about finally getting the win. Raphael explains. “I am really happy about our performance. Elite Motorsports gave me a perfect car. We won the practice section, the race for the pole, and the feature. What a weekend! I could not ask for more. I want to thank my team and all my sponsors. New Holland, XBM, and New Holland have been with me for three years now, and I thank them for their great support.
“The car was very fast, running as fast as our qualifying laps in the feature with Alex Labbé on my bumper all the way through the race. Nobody could race with us, as we were so much faster than the rest of the group. But I had to watch my line on the track and make no mistake, as Alex was there. On one of my restarts, I was slow to get to speed, and Alex took the lead, but Alex made a mistake, sliding off the track and hitting a tracked cone, which forced a penalty on him. I then took the lead and drove hard away from the pack. “I can’t thank everyone enough—the Grand Prix organization, Dominic Lussier for making this race happen again, and all the fans for coming out to the track. It was an awesome day.”
Car co-owner Sylvain Lavallée adds his thoughts on the weekend of success: “As a co-owner of the cars, it’s an immense joy to have tasted victory this weekend at GP3R. There’s a lot of work and preparation involved, and the margin for error is thin since we all have similar or almost identical cars. Everything is in the details—details that we overlooked a bit last year due to some confusion regarding regulations and technical data, including the consumption of the eco-friendly fuel that was proposed for us to use. We all saw what happened at the weigh-in after the qualifications, and the rules were applied to us as well. The event’s name is well chosen, the Urban Challenge, because it’s quite a challenge to turn these cars right while staying the fastest for 20 full laps.
“Last year, we were very close to the top 3, and we had strong performances to hope for a victory. But this year, François decided, perhaps due to lack of time, to not race with his car and focus 100% on preparing a competitive machine for Raphaël, who, as we know, has the natural talent to bring a car to the front. It was a rewarding decision, as he made the right choices with Iann, our chief mechanic, to remain fast and competitive throughout the weekend. The Urban Challenge is an extraordinary weekend not only for us but also for our sponsors, as it provides excellent advertising exposure. “Without them, none of this would be possible, and we can never thank them enough for their support.