Ranger starts title defense at Cayuga

What a difference a year makes for Andrew Ranger and his No. 27 Tide/Wal-Mart Ford Fusion.

Even at the young age of 20, his racing résumé was long and varied, but there was just one stock car race on it, and it wasn’t a particularly good outing. Now, at 21, he is the defending champion, of all things, a stock car racing series – the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Sirius Satellite Radio.

The series starts up on Saturday (May 24) at Cayuga’s Motor Speedway with the Crown Jewel 200.

Like all championships, it was built upon an entire season of success. He took control of the point standings after winning the season’s second race at Mosport International Raceway and never relinquished it. All the while, he withstood challenges from Canada’s best and most-experienced stock car drivers – former Hamilton resident Don Thomson Jr., Peter Gibbons, Mark Dilley, J.R. Fitzpatrick and D.J. Kennington.

“That was last year and it’s over now,” said Ranger. “It’s a new year and time to start all over again.”

It is a new year, but this time around there is a familiarity with both the tracks and the car that was not there a season ago which gives the Roxton Pond, Que.,driver a sense of comfort. Something else Ranger has this year – a target on his back, but this is of little concern, too.

“Everyone wants to win,” said Ranger. “I don’t feel any pressure about being the champion. When the race starts, everyone just wants to win that race and do their best.”

The foot injured earlier in the year in an motorcycle ice racing accident is a non-issue as well. Rehabilitation continues, but there are no limitations from his doctors as the season commences. “I can walk, jog and ride a bike. It feels great. I’m ready to go.”

There’s no doubt Ranger’s title came as a product of his success on the road courses. He finished first or second in all four road course events last season. However, his ability to handle the majority of the schedule, the ovals, and keep the car on the track cannot be overlooked. In fact, his average finish on the oval tracks was a more-than-respectable 7.25, including three top fives.

“We did pretty well on the ovals. We led some laps along the way and got some good finishes,” he stated.

He does not feel a win on an oval course brings about a magical stamp of approval from the stock car racing world.

“I think the other competitors know what we are capable of and respect our program,” Ranger said. “Don’t get me wrong, though. I do want to win an oval race, but the situation has to present itself when racing for points.”

Joining Ranger in the Jacombs Racing stable will be former Champ Car standout and fellow Quebec native Alex Tagliani. Last season, Tagliani competed in Montreal and Trois-Rivieres.

“It’ll be nice to have a teammate at the oval tracks as well as the road courses,” said Ranger. “I don’t know what the advantages are yet. Alex, like I was, is pretty new to these cars and most of the tracks. We’ll just have to see how it all comes together. I am excited about it, though.”

While Ranger did suffer three fractures of his left foot in the motorcycle spill in mid-February, it happened after Daytona Speedweeks which allowed him to gain valuable experience. He competed along with Colin Braun, Brian Frisselle and Mark Wilkins in a Daytona Prototype in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. They finished 19th in the DP class and 48th overall. More importantly for him, though, was his experience in the ARCA RE/MAX Series at Daytona International Speedway. He failed to qualify for the event, but the seat time in the heavier steel-bodied car will prove valuable as his career progresses.

“It didn’t go as I would have liked, but the chance to handle the heavier car on a track that size was good,” he said.

Heading into the Crown Jewel 200, Ranger feels good both mentally and physically.

“I am very much ready to go. I like the track at Cayuga. It is fast,” Ranger stated. “It’s a little bumpy in places, but that really helps concentration. It’s been a long (off-season) and it is time to get 2008 underway.”