National Championship Pushed Layne Riggs to the Max
Sep 25, 2022
Not even Marc-Antoine Camirand realistically expected this out of his first season as a driver-owner in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series.
A decade into his journey as a NASCAR driver, the 43-year-old claimed the largest touring prize in Canadian motorsports and did it by bringing the band back together with crew chief Robin McCluskey and a group that had previous experience working together.
Not only that, but Camirand and their No. 96 under the GM Paillé and Camirand Performance banners were virtually perfect this past summer with three wins, nine top-5s and a 5.3 average finish across the dozen races from coast to coast.
This new team didn’t even fully come together until February, making their accomplishment all the more impressive, but it all begins with the hiring of McCluskey who was coming off a run of two championships in five seasons with Dumoulin Compétition.
If Camirand and Jean-Claude Paillé were going to branch off on their own, it had to start with McCluskey.
"We first started thinking about it last summer, but if we were going to do it, we really needed a good crew chief," Camirand told Racing America. "I worked with Robin at Derek White's team and as we started talking in the winter and he said he didn't have plans yet, we offered him the job and he said he would be honored, and we made all those decisions around February."
There was just one challenge with getting the deal done that late. The season begins in May and Camirand aimed to build their own chassis out of Camirand Performance.'
The first oval car wasn't even completed until May and it got one test day before the season opener at Sunset Speedway on May 14. Camirand proceeded to lead the most laps before the racing got rough and he was shoved out of the way to a fourth-place finish.
But a statement was made.
"The spring was really stressful," Camirand said. "We couldn't really get parts yet at that point, we couldn't get a transmission. We tested four days before the race at Sunset and I couldn't believe how fast we were on race day."
But really, Camirand wasn't suprised. It's Robin McCluskey.
"It was huge to have him back with us," Camirand said. "I have so much confidence in him and he brough over so many of the guys we worked with at White in 2015. Between them and GM Paillé, we couldn't have done this. But I really did not expect to win this much."
Camirand had two previous wins in the series at St. Eustache and Mosport with 22 Racing in 2018 and 2021 respectively.
Before trying his hand in Stock Cars in 2012, Camirand raced sports cars and touring cars. In NASCAR, it took him awhile to adjust to the aggression and finesse required to compete at this level in this discipline. Short ovals was a new experience for him.
Camirand admits there is a degree of validation this championship provides him over his race craft, but again gives credit to McCluskey.
Their perfect season had only one blemish, a series of technical challenges from NASCAR and their fellow competitors. NASCAR even penalized Camirand 12 driver and owner points for a muffler violation after winning at Edmonton. The penalty was overturned on appeal.
His car was also one of several that were forced to cut up and replace their rear suspension before the race at Edmonton due to abnormalities found in pre-race technical inspection.
"With the muffler, we knew we didn't do anything wrong, but it could have been a turning point in the season," Camirand said. "We had to change all the parts in a parking lot at Saskatoon and missed practice but that's where Robin was so impressive with his plan."
In the end, Camirand went unchallenged in the championship and actually clinched upon taking the green flag on Saturday at Delaware Speedway.
So, if this is what GM Paillé and Camirand Performance is capable of in their first season together, what will their follow up look like? For one, Andrew Ranger ran under the GM Paillé brand this past season, but Camirand isn’t sure what his plans are.
Long term, Camirand wants to emulate his friend and mentor Scott Steckly and build a multi-car competitive empire. Personally, he hopes to run a handful of NASCAR Xfinity Series road course races next season.
"I don’t know how many more years I plan to race, but I’m really looking forward to winning a championship purely as an owner," Camirand said. "We have some exciting young blood coming into this series with Kyle Steckly and Treyten Lapcevich. I want to be able to contribute to that."
Camirand has found a home in NASCAR Canada and just wants to continue building on a foundation of a successful season in which he won the championship against the largest car counts and most diverse schedule in almost a decade.
"The competition in this series is really high," Camirand said. "You have to be really aggressive and that’s something I’ve had to learn -- being able to do that but also be smart. It’s something LP has done so well over the past couple of years. So to win the championship against him, Lacroix and these impressive young drivers, it’s just a really special thing."