Monday, September 14, 2009

Laperle's Unplanned Pit Strategy Leads to Foliage Win

Fall Foliage 300 weekend coverage by Vermont Motorsports Magazine

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. -- The Fall Foliage 300 was sponsored by Akwesasne Mohawk Casino, and appropriately, Patrick Laperle made a huge gamble.

The St-Denis, Qué. driver started Sunday's ACT Late Model Tour event at Airborne Speedway from the pole position by virtue of earning a '+9' handicap in qualifying, then volleyed for the lead throughout the event with Donald Theetge, Karl Allard, Brent Dragon, and Brian Hoar.

Theetge and Laperle, the top-two point men in the battle for the Canadian-based ACT Castrol Series championship, made contact in Turn 4 on lap 15, spinning Theetge around and effectively out of contention. Allard and Laperle battled hard for the lead for the next 135 laps through three caution periods, one of which saw Dragon and Hoar pit for right-side tires and fuel on lap 123.

Laperle took a risk during a lap 151 caution by staying out on the speedway as Allard pitted. Laperle also stayed out during two more quick cautions on laps 153 and 158; it proved to be maybe the biggest gamble of his career.

As Allard pitted on lap 151, Dragon lined up second to set up a battle with Laperle for the lead. The two diced for the top spot for nearly 100 laps, including an unexpected stretch of 90 green flag laps, one that Laperle would have pitted during had there been a caution flag.

As the laps clicked away, Laperle's tires began to wear out and his fuel burned off. Dragon pinned Laperle behind the lapped car of Pete Potvin to take the lead on lap 221, and Brian Hoar drove past Laperle on the inside lane on lap 237 to take second place. But Laperle caught a lucky break as Dave Whitcomb spun exiting Turn 4 on lap 248, bringing out the caution flag and allowing Laperle to head to pit road. As he pulled off the race track, the car sputtered, and the engine was silent as Laperle entered his pit stall, starved of fuel.

But a quick stop for right-side tires and gas got Laperle back out onto the track where he lined up seventh among lead-lap cars, 14th in track position. In eight short laps, Laperle sliced through the traffic into fourth place before the tenth and final caution flew on lap 256. Two laps later, Laperle was in the lead, blowing past Scott Payea, Dragon, and Hoar. ACT Late Model Tour point leader Hoar was able to keep pace with Laperle during the closing laps, and had a brief chance to take over on la 284 in lapped traffic, but Laperle held on for the win. Hoar was second with Dragon third.

"Really, man, on the backstretch when I came to the pit road, [the engine was sputtering] 'bang, bang,' like that, and I said, 'No, no, no!'" explained Laperle. "So I pressed on the gas pedal in the turn on pit road, then I pushed in the clutch and put it neutral. When I got to my pit, [the engine] was stopped. I was like 'Come on, start!'"

Eric Laperle, Patrick's crew chief and twin brother, said they had hoped to make their pit stop earlier than lap 248. "That was not the plan at all," he said. "That was scary."

Patrick Laperle said he was more confident in the car as the race went on and he kept the same pace as others, like Allard at mid-race, and Dragon near the finish, slowed down. "I saw Karl Allard was going pretty good, and I was like, 'Okay, Karl, go out and burn your tires.' He was going hard and was sideways all the time. At the beginning [my] car was not good, but in the middle of the race when there was less gas in the gas tank the car seemed to be much better, so I let them burn their tires and when I pit we put some [new] tires on and it was good. In like 12 laps we started at the rear and got to the front."

Hoar and Dragon said they knew they were sitting ducks when Laperle came to pit road late in the race. "Yeah, oh yeah, we knew," said Hoar. "The second he came down pit road, we were like, 'Crap, we're done, we're toast, this is going to be ugly.' We knew right away what he was doing as soon as he didn't come down with everybody else, or when he didn't come down with the 48 (Allard). If it worked out for him, it was the best pit strategy to have. Trust me we had that [in mind], that was Plan A. But Plan A didn't work with that long stretch of green (from lap 32-123), the caution didn't fall where we needed it to fall. So we had to go to Plan B, which was to pit basically in the middle of the race when everybody else did."

"He pulled up beside me when he was going in the pits and he gave me the thumbs up because we raced so clean, and that was awesome," said Dragon, "but when he pitted I knew if he came back with those two tires, it would be like us [after we pitted on lap 123]. It wasn't five laps and we were back to the front. He did what he had to do."

Unofficially, there were 19 lead changes in the race. John Donahue finished in fourth place with Payea fifth. The top ten was completed by Chip Grenier, Theetge, Sylvain Lacombe, Craig Bushey, and Glen Luce. Allard fell out of the race with a broken rear end on lap 213, finishing 22nd. Laperle's win was his first ACT Late Model Tour victory of the year, and Hoar stretched his lead over Payea to 28 points with one event remaining at Oxford Plains Speedway on October 11.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS -- Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Fall Foliage 300
ACT Late Model Tour -- Airborne Speedway, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009

Pos.-Driver-Hometown (# - indicates rookie)

1. Patrick Laperle, St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Qué.
2. Brian Hoar, Williston
3. Brent Dragon, Milton
4. John Donahue, Graniteville
5. Soctt Payea, Milton
6. Chip Grenier, Graniteville
7. Donald Theetge, Boischatel, Qué.
8. Sylvain Lacombe, Terrebonne, Qué.
9. Craig Bushey, Cambridge
10. Glen Luce, Turner, Me.
11. Trampas Demers, South Burlington
12. #Joey Doiron, Berwick, Me.
13. Mark Lamberton, Mooers Forks, N.Y.
14. Stépahne Descoste, Oka, Qué.
15. Pete Potvin, III, Graniteville
16. Ricky Rolfe, Albany Twp., Me.
17. Dave Whitcomb, Essex Junction
18. Steve Fisher, Shelburne
19. David Michaud, Blainville, Qué.
20. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., Hudson, N.H.
21. Eric Williams, Hyde Park
22. Karl Allard, St-Félicien, Qué.
23. Sam Caron, Colchester
24. #Dylan Smith, Randolph
25. Tyler Cahoon, St. Johnsbury
26. Dave Paya, Milton
27. Randy Potter, Groveton, N.H.
28. Martin Lacombe, Terrebonne, Qué.
29. Joe Tetreault, Enfield, N.H.
30. Jamie Fisher, Shelburne
31. Brad Leighton, Center Harbor, N.H.
32. Joey Laquerre, East Montpelier
33. Derek Lynch, Warkworth, Ont.
34. Daniel Descoste, St-Joseph-du-Lac, Qué.
35. Dave Wilcox, Fairfield
36. Eric Chase, Milton

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