NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. — Alex Labbe flew in to New Smyrna Speedway a bit under the radar for most American-Canadian Tour fans, but he’ll return home to Quebec as one to watch in 2011.

The sophomore competitor overcame a substantial amount of misfortune to finish third in the first of two 100-lap races at the inaugural ACT Goodyear Speedweeks Cup on Sunday night.

Labbe, who turns 18 years old in April, hails from of the town of Saint-Albert near Drummondville, about halfway between Montreal and Quebec City. He won the ACT Castrol Edge Series Rookie of the Year title last year and finished fifth in championship points.

Despite his youth, he has solid support behind him. Quebec native Mario Gosselin, a veteran of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, built Labbe’s new DGM Racing chassis and has been working with the driver throughout the winter. Labbe also has the help of noted crew chief Chantal Lamontagne.

He put their skills to the test on Sunday at New Smyrna in several ways; the team posted the first or second fastest lap time in each of the first three afternoon practice sessions, but soon discovered an engine problem. The No. 36 Victoriaville RV Toyota team thrashed on the car to replace the engine during the final two practice sessions, but found out the hard way that they weren’t quite finished.

“We had a lot of things [happen] today,” said Labbe. “We changed the motor, but in the qualifying heat we were on seven cylinders because we broke a spark plug.”

Labbe then started 14th in the feature race and made his way through the field to race among the leaders. After a lengthy battle with Wayne Helliwell, Jr., Labbe took his first podium finish in ACT competition.

“I finished in the back [in the heat race], but we came back strong in the final race so it was good,” Labbe said. “The car was not perfect so we’re going to change a couple of things for Monday.”

Labbe’s focus is to win the 2011 ACT Castrol Edge Series championship and unseat veteran drivers like Patrick Laperle, Donald Theetge, and reigning champion Karl Allard.

“I want to win the championship this year,” he said, “so we’re doing everything we can to win.”

1. A new engine waits to be installed into Alex Labbe’s car at New Smyrna Speedway on Sunday afternoon; a few hours later the engine would bring Labbe to a career-best third-place finish. (Justin St. Louis/VMM photo)