The Quiet Canadian: Antoine Bessette is Starting to Make Some Noise in the Toyota Atlantic Championship Although he may have wild hair and a unique look that suggests more rock star that precision race car driver, Antoine Bessette is not looking...
The Quiet Canadian: Antoine Bessette is Starting to Make Some Noise in the Toyota Atlantic Championship
Although he may have wild hair and a unique look that suggests more rock star that precision race car driver, Antoine Bessette is not looking for any extra attention.
The 23-year-old rookie driver in the Toyota Atlantic Championship Presented by Yokohama prefers to just focus on his driving and trying to improve his skills in the #3 Unik Auto Design car. But with a pair of second-place finishes and a string of top-five results in the first half of the 2005 Atlantic season, Bessette is going to be hard-pressed to avoid the spotlight for the rest of the year.
He currently sits third in the series standings after six rounds of 12 in the books. He has, at times, looked like he could certainly emerge as the top driver among a new breed of Atlantic road racing stars this season. He has also had a few incidents where he's looked like a rookie driver in North America's top open-wheel development series - because, of course, he is.
"I think we're still in good shape for winning the championship," Bessette said recently after completing back-to-back doubleheader weekends at Portland and Cleveland that left him trailing only series leader Charles Zwolsman and second-place driver Tonis Kasemets in the title chase. "With a little luck and getting the car a bit quicker and no stupid mistakes, I think we can do it."
Bessette came out of the gates quickly in his first race for Polestar Racing Group. He led both rounds of qualifying at the season-opening race at Long Beach and paced the first 26 laps of the race before finishing a close second to teammate Katherine Legge. He returned to the podium this past weekend, finishing second behind Zwolsman in the second of two races at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport.
In between his two podium visits, however, Bessette knows he performed well but also had some missteps. He spun early in Round 2 before finishing fourth in Mexico. He went off course in the first Portland race then made contact with another car in the second race as he brought home two fifth-place finishes. If he hopes to realize his championship dreams this season, Bessette knows he has to eliminate errors from his race-day performances.
"No more of that," said Bessette. "I will not do that again this year."
What he is bound to do is attract more attention. Despite the fact that he's a low-key personality, the native of St. Bruno, Quebec, located just outside of Montreal, will be the focus of more and more fans and media over the next several weeks. The mere fact that three of the series' final six races will be run in Canada and that he's the top Canadian driver in a circuit that's become known for producing some of the country's biggest names in racing, is sure to take care of that.
Aside from the added pressure of competing in his home country, however, Bessette is looking forward to upcoming races in Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal. "They are all really important events for me," he said. "If I'm going to win a race this year, for sure I want it to be in Canada. But I will keep pushing as hard as I can in every race. I just want to win."
Bessette thinks his best shot might come at the next event on the schedule - the annual Molson Indy at Toronto's Exhibition Place street circuit. He earned his best North American Formula Renault Series finish of fourth place last year at Toronto and he also finished fourth at the venue in 2003 in the Barber Dodge Pro Series. He likes competing on street circuits and it's no coincidence that his first and only Atlantic pole position to date came on the last street course in Long Beach.
"I like racing in Toronto and I like being in between the walls, like in Long Beach," said Bessette. "The street is bumpy (in Toronto) and there are a couple of corners I really like there, like Turn 1. I don't know why, but I'm not scared of the walls. I just don't see them - and hopefully they don't see me."
What's amazing about Bessette's success is that he's really only been driving cars professionally for about four years. As opposed to most drivers at the pro level, Bessette did not learn about racing in go-karts. His first experience in racing came in rally and sedan competition, so he's been on a very steep learning curve as he continues to mature as a driver.
"For sure (the lack of karting experience) hasn't helped me," said Bessette. "I've talked to a lot of guys and in go karts you really learn how to pass in traffic and deal with the guys in front of you. I'm still learning some of that, but I'm a pretty quick learner."
One of the other things he's learned is cutting hair. He doesn't practice on others, but he does admit to cutting his own hair and he likes the unique look it gives him around the Atlantic paddock.
Despite what happens in this season's championship chase, Bessette is excited about where his racing career is going. He plans on doing some ice racing and regional Canadian rally competitions in the fall and winter months to add to his resume.
And next year? Well, he hopes that he might get a chance to drive Champ Cars, his ultimate thrill, but he also knows those opportunities don't come around that often and that Toyota Atlantic is the perfect training ground to reach the next level.
"Champ Car is definitely the dream that I'm chasing but I just want to drive," said Bessette. "I'll race a lawnmower if I had to. Just put a wing on it and I'll drive it."