By Dean Reynolds
GRANBY, QC – When the idea of putting on a big 360 sprint car event at the famed Autodrome Granby in Quebec was put into place, it attracted one of the best sprint car drivers anywhere. Bixby Oklanhoma’s Shane Stewart took the lead from Quebec native Alain Bergeron on lap 13 and never looked back in winning the first annual Can-Am Challenge.
Stewart was piloting the Scott McClaren owned sprint and he took home $5,000 for his winning efforts in the 30 lap A-Main. The event found drivers from five states and two Canadain provinces making for the most diverse field ever in the French speaking province.
“This was fun, to come up here for the first time and have a good weekend. I’m just happy for the whole team.” said the multi-time winner of the ASCS National Tour. “He (Bergeron) got a little better jump on me on that second restart but I just waited it out a bit as I knew lapped cars would figure into the event. Thirty laps is a longer race so it was bound to happen.”
By virtue of points earned during the night, Bergeron, the 2006 Empire Super Sprints (ESS) champion was on the pole with Stewart starting alongside. On the drop of the green flag, Stewart was able to pull out into the lead but a caution for a stopped Dale Gosselin made for an original restart.
The second try was the charm for Bergeron and he led right until the second caution was displayed on lap four for a stopped Keith Dempster. Even though it was double file restarts, Bergeron again got the jump and lead the A-Main.
This time though, the event went through a long greeg flag stint and the slower cars that Stewart talked about would figure into the fray. Just past lap 10, Stewart was now pressuting Bergeron and when lap 13 was about to be placed in the books, he found a lane underneath to take over the top spot.
Even though he has never seen the half-mile, the fulltime sprint car driver’s knowledge soon took over. An aggressive attack on lapped cars saw him open up a distance.
On lap 19, the seventh place starting Justin Barger came through the field and he also slipped past Bergeron to take second with hopes of possibly tracking down Stewart.
Just one lap later the red lights were displayed for a double flip by Friday night winner Dain Naida and Anthony Cain. With lapped cars going tail, it was now a battle between Stewart and the 2009 ESS champion in Barger.
The two pulled out from the field and was going to try to decide the Challenge by themselves. Two quick cautions on lap 27 added top the excitement but it wasn’t what Barger was looking for.
“I didn’t need the two those late cautions, I used up my tires coming through to the front so I didn’t have much for him there at the end.” noted the Montrose, NY chauffeur. “I was trying, he’s a fulltime racer so I wanted to win one for the locals but the late yellows kind of sealed my fate.”
The final two laps under green and it was Stewart that flashed under the doubld checkered flag and it positioned himself atop of the podium in victory lane.
“It was a challenging track, different than last night as it took rubber. We all were worried if we could make 30 laps but it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would turn out.” Stewart continued. “The lap cars were key for me. He (Bergeron) was fast but I think I had a better handling car. If the race went non-stop, not sure if I could get by him though so we used what was given to us and it was a cool win.”
For third finishing Bergeron, third was nice but he wanted one for the hometown crowd. “Ah darn!” dead-panned the St. Pie resident. “Car was a little tough to drive, I slid up just a little bit and he got by me. We tried!”
Behind Stewart, Barger and Bergeron was two-time ESS champion Lance Yonge followed by four-time Patriot Sprint Tour (PST) champion Bryan Howland. For Howland, it was mental victory if anything else. The crew had to rebuild the entire car except for motor, seat and steering wheel after a wild flip on Friday night.
Rounding out the top ten were Jamie Collard, Kevin Loveys who subbed for the injured Steve Poirier, followed by an ESS threesome in Jeff Cook, Shawn Donath and Paul Kinney.
Bergeron set fast time of the night during group time-trials with the heats won by Bergeron, Stewart, Loveys and Donath. The twelve lap B-Main was captured by Cook.
Can-Am Challenge Night #2 Notes: A fine field of 34 sprinters were on hand…New entries from Friday night included Barger, Yonge, Cook, Donath, Kinney, Dan Douville, Devin Caron, Joe Trenca and Donald Lemire…Besides Loveys replacing Poirier, Dylan Swiernik was aboad the Jake Langlois owned sprint but rearend and motor woes kept the young pilot from the A-Main…Kevin Ward Jr. and Cory Sparks, both Friday night flip victims did not return…Granby will play host to winged sprint cars three more times on 2012 highlighted by the World of Outlaws first ever visit on July 27th. ESS will return on June 1st and August 24th.
Can-Am Challenge – Shane Stewart ($5,000), Justin Barger, Alain Bergeron, Lance Yonge, Bryan Howland, Jamie Collard. Kevin Loveys, Jeff Cook, Shawn Donath, Paul Kinney, Patrick Vigneault, Glenn Styres, Jared Zimbardi, Chris Jones, Dale Gosselin, Etienne Girard, Joe Trenca, Kayle Robidoux, Devin Caron, Dain Naida, Anthony Cain, Matt Tanner, Lee Ladouceur, Mitchell Brown, Keith Dempster, Travis Cunningham, Jason Barney, Michael Parent.
Did Not Qualify – Chris Durand, Dan Douville, Mike Ferrell, Dylan Swiernik, Donald Lemire, Tyler Rand,
Fast Time – Bergeron.
Heat 1 – Bergeron, Yonge, Styres, Gosselin.
Heat 2 – Stewart, Howland, Dempster, Barney.
Heat 3 – Loveys, Zimbardi, Collard, Vigneault.
Heat 4 – Donath, Parent, Barger, Tanner.
B-Main – Cook, Trenca, Jones, Robidoux, Cain, Kinney, Cunningham, Girard, Brown, Ladouceur, Caron.
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