Story By: MICHELINA FRISS / DIRTCAR – DRUMMONDVILLE, QUE – The Super DIRTcar Series’ long-awaited return to Canada will stick in the memories of Erick Rudolph and Francois Bernier. But for different reasons.
Coming together from opposite ends of the border, Rudolph, from Ransomville, NY, and Bernier from St. Hyacinthe, QC, joined a stout field of Super DIRTcar Series stars and Canadian locals for the opening night of the King of the North at Autodrome Drummond on Monday.
The two were the stars of the show and Bernier put himself in position for the biggest spotlight, but a late race mishap saw Rudolph run away with the $7,500 victory – his first of the season with the Super DIRTcar Series (becoming the sixth different driver in six races), his ninth overall with the Series and second straight at Autodrome Drummond with the Series.
To get to that point, the redraw put Max McLaughlin on the pole for the Feature – after drawing the SRI Performance/Stock Car Steel Pole Award – Steve Bernard on the outside pole, Bernier fourth and Rudolph sixth.
Bernier wasted no time in establishing himself as the race leader right out of the gate, passing McLaughlin and Bernard on Lap 1. His #57 Big Block, owned by former Series driver Paul St-Sauveur, showed immense speed around the top of the track for Bernier. He held his lead for the next 29 laps, moving through lapped traffic unhindered.
Rudolph fought through several contenders in his #3RS to catch Bernier near the halfway point and pass him for the lead on Lap 30. After fighting through a restart on Lap 37 with Bernier hot on his bumper, Rudolph found clean air and continued to lead.
Another 17 laps clicked off the counter before the race duration began to take its toll, with Brisbane, QLD native Peter Britten suffering a flat left rear tire, forcing the third caution.
As a former two-time track champion with experience on his side, Bernier confidently passed Rudolph on the inside coming off Turn 4 to regain the lead on Lap 57. Back out in front, his machine showed no signs of fatigue, inching closer and closer to a potential crowd-favorite spectacle.
One last caution dropped with eight laps to go, handing the night’s leader one more challenge to conquer before he could officially be declared King of the North.
Bernier jetted out in front once again on the restart, aggressively attacking the corners on the top as he had all night long. However, this time, the top lost its love for him. Bernier hit a rut just wrong, unsettling his car and sliding it over the top of the turn. A moment that hindered any favorable memories.
Rudolph took advantage of the misstep, moving into the top position with Chris Raabe lining up next to him for the restart. With two laps to go, the #3RS launched ahead of the field and drove to the finish line error free.
“I think at the end of the race (Bernier) did have a faster car,” Rudolph said. “We were just kind of settling in there for second. Sometimes you just have to be good enough to put yourself in contention and things like that will happen from time to time. At one point, the top was the best, and then it was the bottom. The car could go anywhere it needed to go. I couldn’t really ask for a much better car. The tuning that we did to it helped calm it down. I’m just really proud of my team here.”
Raabe crossed the finish line second but was nine pounds light at the scales and disqualified (finishing 30th) – moving every driver up one spot in the finishing order. That gave David Hebert the runner-up spot for the night.
“It was tough to catch (Francois Bernier and Erick Rudolph) during the long greens,” Hebert said. “I’m good with the 10 laps after yellow, but after that the car is just too tight. Maybe in lapped traffic I could have taken a lead, but Francois was just too fast. But I love racing against all the guys in the Series. It’s better experience for all the Quebec teams.”
Steve Bernier was awarded third, Mat Williamson fourth – gaining points on Matt Sheppard in the championship battle – and Jeremy Roy rounded out the top five.
The Super DIRTcar Series gets ready for night two at Autodrome Drummond on Tuesday, Aug. 1, for a 75-lap, $10,000-to-win, showcase that will grant the winner a starting spot at Super DIRT Week 51.
King Of The North Results (75 Laps)
1. 3RS-Erick Rudolph; 2. ONE-David Hebert; 3. 25*-Steve Bernier; 4. 88-Mat Williamson; 5. 90JR-Jeremy Roy; 6. 91-Felix Roy; 7. 9S-Matt Sheppard; 8. 41-Samuel Charland; 9. 59-Justin Lalancette; 10. 99L-Larry Wight; 11. 21A-Peter Britten; 12. 5H-Chris Hile; 13. 54-Steve Bernard; 14. 8H-Max McLaughlin; 15. 83X-Tim Sears Jr; 16. 39X-Alex Therrien; 17. 57-Francois Bernier; 18. 35-Mike Mahaney; 19. 13-Kevin Hamel; 20. 124-Gorden Clair; 21. 98H-Jimmy Phelps; 22. 37M-Mathieu Desjardins; 23. 12-Darren Smith; 24. 35B-Francois Bellemare; 25. (DNF) 4-Anthony Perrego; 26. (DNF) 2-Jack Lehner; 27. (DNF) 22C-Mario Clair; 28. (DNF) 25P-Michael Parent; 29. (DNF) 92P-Martin Pelletier; 30. (DQ) 01-Chris Raabe