DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 26, 2016) – Zach Robichon is the top rookie driver this season in the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama. But that might never have happened if not for three fateful laps during a test session last October.
Robichon, from Ottawa, is third in the Platinum Cup championship standings in the No. 78 Mark Motors Racing Porsche entering the season-ending Rounds 11 and 12 on Sept. 2-4 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP). He won just his second start in the series, Round 2 in mid-May at CTMP, and has produced seven other podium finishes in 10 starts while dueling with title contenders and series veterans Daniel Morad and Scott Hargrove.
“I want to fight for podiums, and I want to win more races,” Robichon said. “But as we’ve seen, I’m going against the two best (Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge) drivers in North America right now. I think I’m as good as them. I just need to learn more about sports car racing and racing, in general.”
Robichon’s journey to the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA)-sanctioned Single-Make Series started last October when he traveled to Shannonville Motorsport Park in Ontario, about halfway between Toronto and Montreal.
The son of a client of Bestline Auto Tech, which prepares the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama cars for Mark Motors Racing and OpenRoad Racing, planned to enter F1600 competition in 2016. Robichon raced in that series from 2013-15, finishing runner-up in the championship in 2013, his only full season. So he attended the private test to help the F1600 prospect get up to speed.
Bestline’s crew also attended the test, bringing two Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars for laps, including the machine driven by three-time reigning Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama Platinum Masters champion Marco Cirone.
Robichon began chatting with Bestline technical engineer Georges Bourque and other Bestline crew members at the test.
“They had no idea I was a race car driver,” Robichon said. “They just thought I was there as crew for the other guy. They said, ‘What do you do?’ I said, ‘Well, I drive.’ They said, ‘Really?’”
Robichon then told Bourque he had competed against and held his own in F1600 against 2014 Platinum Cup champion Hargrove and was teammates in F1600 with Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama standout Jesse Lazare.
So Bourque pointed to one of the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars sitting in the Shannonville paddock and told Robichon to take it for a spin.
“I did three laps and came in, and they said, ‘We’re going to find a way to get you in the car next year,’” Robichon said.
The Bestline client whose son Robichon helped at Shannonville is a friend of longtime Mark Motors Racing standout Cirone, and he introduced Robichon to Cirone. The next steps were meetings with Mark Motors Racing team principals Michael and Liza Mrak after a recommendation from Bourque. The Mrak’s were impressed enough with Robichon to put him in one of the team’s cars for the 2016 season.
“I was really worried going into the first test day,” Robichon said. “What if I’m not quick? What if I can’t translate what I’ve learned?” I didn’t have that issue. I immediately felt at home.
“Within five laps at (CTMP), I was basically pushing 10/10ths. I was like, ‘OK, I can do this.’ I didn’t expect the familiarity with the vehicle this quickly.
“They rolled the dice on me. We had a good first weekend.”
Indeed. Robichon, 24, made immediate waves by finishing third in Round 1 behind Morad and Hargrove and winning Round 2 with a smooth, composed drive after Morad and Hargrove were eliminated in a collision while dueling for the lead on the first lap.
That chance meeting with Bourque and the Bestline crew, combined with the strong debut in May at CTMP, confirmed Robichon’s decision to move from F1600 junior open-wheel racing in Canada to sports cars.
“I said it’s as good time as any to make the jump because there seems to be way more opportunity,” Robichon said. “I was obviously right because now I’m racing this year.”
Robichon comes from a family with racing background. His father, Jacques, competed in Formula Ford in Canada for a team fielded by Colin Hine, now an IMSA official. One of Jacques Robichon’s teammates was Scott Goodyear, who went on to finish runner-up twice in the Indianapolis 500.
Jacques Robichon stopped auto racing before his children were born. But he bought a kart for a 40th birthday present in 1996, taking 4-year-old Zach with him to the track on weekends. He balanced kart racing during the summer with masters-level ski racing during the winter through 2002.
Zach Robichon was infatuated with karting when he accompanied his dad to the track, but he also was developing into an elite downhill ski racer as a boy, much like his father. Zach focused on ski racing before he also added karting to his busy activity mix in 2006, at age 14.
In 2009, Robichon won a major North American championship race in his age group in downhill skiing and finished on the podium in a few other races. But he couldn’t stop thinking about karting, where he also began to enjoy success on the Canadian national level.
It was decision time. He chose racing on asphalt instead of snow.
“You’d think after a year like that (in skiing), you would be thinking about preparing for next year,” Robichon said. “And on my mind, it was: ‘When are we going racing? When are we going karting?’”
Robichon climbed to car racing in 2013 in the F1600 series, finishing second in the championship. He made sporadic starts in the series in 2014 and 2015 due to limited budget.
That struggle has helped Robichon appreciate his opportunities in the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama even more this season. So has the maturity he has gained by earning his undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Ottawa in 2015 and his master’s degree in international economics and finance from Ryerson University this year.
“It makes me realize how lucky I am,” Robichon said. “I’m lucky enough that on the weekends and during the summer to go drive race cars. It makes me appreciate the amount of work it takes to go racing. It makes me work harder in racing because I don’t take it for granted.”