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U of O’s Zacharie Robichon ranked second in F1600 Championship Series

It’s hard enough to obtain an economics degree, but when you’re a full-time open-wheel race car driver on top of that, it becomes nearly impossible. University of Ottawa student Zacharie Robichon does just that.

The third-year student, specializing in economics with a minor in business, is coming off his rookie season in the Class A section of the Toyo Tires F1600 Championship Series, an open-wheel racing circuit based in Ontario.

“The 2013 season was up and down for me,” said Robichon, a member of BGR Team Grote. “The season started off very well, but in the middle part we ran into a few problems with a mechanical failure in one race and then getting taken out in another.”

Despite these early issues, Robichon ended on a hot streak and took to two podiums in his final two races to push him into second place in the overall standings and propel him to win rookie of the year.

“Second in the overall championship and rookie of the year is still nothing to be ashamed of,” he said.

Robichon had the opportunity to travel to Kent, England to represent Team Canada in the Formula Ford Festival. The world-renowned festival is generally considered a launch pad for young drivers into the professional ranks. Robichon considered the event “a fantastic experience and probably the highlight of my year,” but it wouldn’t have happened without Brian Graham, the founder of the Team Canada Scholarship.

Graham, who is also the owner of BGR Team Grote, founded the scholarship to provide opportunities for young Canadian drivers to get exposure on the international stage. That’s exactly why he, along with racing journalists, other team owners, and professional drivers, picked Robichon as the recipient of the scholarship over the other top drivers in Canada.

“The speed was always there,” said Graham. “The difference was Zach’s approach and the fact that he worked so hard and never lost focus. His off-track presence was very good and he showed he was a great representative for our team. He did everything we asked of him and was a pleasure to work with.”

Normally, if a driver wants to go pro, they need to race as soon as they can walk. But Robichon didn’t race until he was 14 and didn’t start competitively until 17 when he raced his first full open-wheel season.

“Although I got into racing late it was always a passion of mine,” he said. “My dad raced cars when he was younger so racing was always a part of my life. As some would say, it’s in my blood.”

With his racing success, it could be tempting to focus on it full-time, but he’s committed to finishing his university degree.

“Countless numbers of people have spent all their money trying to make a racing career and skipped out on an education just to be left with nothing if it doesn’t work out,” he said. “Although I would like to spend all my time racing, I know that a university education is essential to have if ever racing doesn’t work out. Even if it does work out, there’s nothing wrong with having a race car driver with a university degree.”

Once his racing days are done, Robichon hopes to obtain a master’s in economics or business administration. Nowadays, he manages to strike the difficult balance between the demands of racing and school.

“Luckily here in Canada the schedule mostly does not interfere, although sometimes I do have to miss school for racing,” he said.

However, he’s eager to do the extra work to keep up with his studies.

“Econ is a tough major but I find the subject interesting, so it definitely keeps me motivated to keep working on my studies,” he said.

As for next year, things are still up in the air. Gaining sponsors is key to afford the high costs involved with open-wheel racing and that’s where his focus is now.

“I have been working full swing to get sponsorship for the 2014 season to allow myself to keep racing,” said Robichon. “All I can say is that I will be working flat out to get the support I need.”

Despite his apprehension about next year, Graham hopes to have Robichon back.

“We really hope to have Zach back with BGR Team Grote next season and go for a championship,” said Graham. “We would expect to contend for race wins every weekend and would like nothing better to do that with him.”