When I first heard that Honda Canada was going forth with a spec race class for the CBR250R for 2012, I was pretty stoked.
It replaces the CBR125R Challenge as a support class for the Mopar Canadian Superbike Championship; that series had proven a successful, inexpensive formula for introducing budding riders to road racing, and it provided some of the tightest competition of the season.
With the release of the CBR250R last year, a new 250 series seemed a logical step up.
When I learned the folks at Honda Canada were going to allot six race-prepped CBR250Rs for members of the media and run a parallel media championship I was positively jubilant!
Us media types don’t (usually) openly brag about who’s faster at the various track press launches we attend throughout the year, but mentally we take note –you know, comparing proverbial penis sizes in our minds.
I immediately volunteered to fight for phallic supremacy in the name of Team CMG (a magazine staffed by big knobs after all) and enrolled in the series.
FRIDAY – PRACTICE
As a former racer I take racing quite seriously and was up before dawn on the Friday morning to make the three-and-a-half-hour drive from Montreal to Shannonville in time to make the mandatory 8:00 AM riders’ meeting.
My other colleagues, including Cycle Canada’s Neil Graham and Derreck Roemer, EatSleepRide’s Alex Cookes, and the National Post’s David Booth, all based in nearby Toronto, obviously needed their beauty sleep, neglecting to attend the riders’ meeting at all.
One of the perks of showing up early, however, is that I got dibs on which bike I’d ride. Honda Canada’s Eric Vlasic prepares all the bikes equally using the $1,900 race conversion kit that includes Hot Bodies bodywork, an Elka shock, Akrapovic slip-on exhaust, Dynojet EFI module, frame sliders, footpeg relocating brackets, a chain protector and a race stand. All bikes run on series-mandated Pirellis.
However, there are two different suspension setups, one for riders weighing less than 160 lb (the kids) and one for heavier riders (AKA old-fart moto-journos), which come with stiffer fork springs, heavier fork oil and more rear preload dialled in. There are also ABS and non-ABS machines – I opted for the latter, which saves eight pounds. My lardy butt needed all the help it could get!
The first of two 20-minute practice sessions didn’t go as planned after the shifter fell off my bike, though it was enough time to post the second-fastest media time behind the speedy Graham.
But this was without the ever-competitive Booth (an accomplished amateur boxer; he’s slim, he’s trim, and he has a mean competitive streak), who missed the first practice session entirely, strolling casually in during the lunch break.
After discovering that another rider had already claimed the CBR250R he’d set up with Vlasic during a day of private lapping at Shannonville the weekend before (and I thought I was serious about winning those bragging rights), he threw what could be described as a bit of a tantrum, as the only bike left was an ABS model with the lightweight suspension setup.
After about 10 minutes of whining and whimpering, and finally folding his arms, pouting and threatening to go home, I offered Booth my bike.
Acknowledging the goodwill gesture he quickly matured to his 50-plus years and said, “No, no, Costa, you don’t have to do that, I’ll just come back for the next round.”
“Dave, you’re not hearing me,” I replied, “I want to kick your ass riding a bike that isn’t set up as well.” Okay, there may be a little rivalry between the two of us. He duly accepted my challenge and we all settled to the quieter, Booth-less sounds of open exhaust pipes.
And kick his ass I did, posting the fastest media practice time of the day and only one second off the day’s best time, posted by thirteen-year-old Tomas Casas.
Yes, I know, I got my ass kicked by the thirteen-year-old but remember, racing on small-capacity bikes, being, err, slightly lardy is a major disadvantage.
But Booth is a fighter and does not acquiesce so easily …
SATURDAY – QUALIFYING AND RACE 1
The CBR250R series is the only class that features double-headers (two finals) at every event, so we began Saturday with a 20-minute qualifying session. John Sharrard of Accelerated Technologies modified the forks on my bike to fat-guy specs the evening before so I was now pretty confident of laying down some fast laps.
I rode hard — under the scrutiny of Editor ’Arris, who dropped in before taking off on a Mad Bastard scouting mission — and improved on my previous day’s practice time by almost a second, ahead of Graham, Roemer and Cookes.
Problem is, Booth also improved his time and out-qualified us all by posting an impressive 23.467 –half a second on my time. Ouch.
Without having to throw punches, Booth and I stared each other down on the starting grid of Race 1. Although he could tie me in knots in a boxing ring, on a racetrack his chances aren’t so clear cut.
I had a great start and slotted myself into fourth place behind leader Stacey Nesbitt, Ryan Roche and Tomas Casas going into Turn One.
Surprising, mostly to me, I kept pace with the front-running trio in the early stages of the race.
But no matter how good a drive I managed exiting Turn Five — a right-hand hairpin — I just couldn’t stay with the tightly packed youngsters down the long back straight. Even if I were right on Casas’ rear tire, the three riders would gap me by about a second and a half by the end of the straight.
My experience and an eleven-tenths effort allowed me to close that gap over the remainder of the circuit but every time we’d exit that tight hairpin they’d take off, leaving me cursing the more than four decades of cheeseburger-and-fries-encrusted lard that’s accumulated around my waist.
But trying to keep up with the teenagers had its benefits, giving me a lead over the rest of the field by almost the length of the back straight by mid-race. With the media race looking safe I paced myself and rode out the rest of the race, finishing fourth overall but more importantly, first in the media class. I also recorded my best lap time of the weekend at 22.545. To celebrate I had a cheeseburger and fries.
Roche took the overall win, followed by Casas and last year’s CBR125R Challenge champ Nesbitt in third.
SUNDAY – RACE 2
After a ten-minute morning practice we all prepared for the noontime-scheduled Race 2. We’d again be gridded based on Saturday morning’s qualifying, and Booth and I again stared each other down on the track. This time I saw something in his eyes: vengeance. He wanted this win.
I had a different strategy than the day before. I’d try to keep pace with the frontrunners for the entire race, and failing that I’d resort to plan B: back off the pace a bit and mix it up with my journo rivals.
Booth and Graham had enjoyed a race-long battle the day before with Booth getting past Graham just before the finish line, less than two tenths of a second separating them. Now that sounded like fun.
I again had a good start, but this time Sean Smith — who was riding injured after a couple of crashes — sneaked ahead of me going into Turn Two. It took me about a lap and a half to get back by him but by this time the three leaders were well out of my reach. Plan B then.
I looked back and saw the number 6 bike of Booth closing on me slowly. He’d gotten by Smith too and I could tell he was riding hard and had picked up the pace from the previous day.
By the seventh lap (of 10) he was drafting right behind me on the back straight and made the pass. I stuck on his tail — I wasn’t giving up the media-class lead without a fight — and shot by him again going into Turn Two only to have him return the favour by drafting by me again on the back straight.
I tailed him closely, and although I made a couple of passing attempts, I couldn’t get by him before the back straight. Unfortunately, despite almost riding up his rear tire down the back straight, the weight disparity between us gave him the advantage and with a growing sense of doom I realized that I may not be able to pass him after all. So much for Plan B.
When I saw the flag indicating we were beginning the last lap I realized that it was my last chance to make a move for the lead.
I gave myself some room coming out of Turn One — a flat-out (on the CBRs) right-hand sweeper — and set myself up to maintain my main strength, momentum, going into Turn Two, and then try and out-drive him going into Turn Three.
My plan worked and I began gaining on him as soon as we got out of Two. Wanting to avoid getting the door shut on me or pushing Booth wide by passing him on the inside of Three, I moved to take a wide outside line and ride around him.
It worked, and I got past Booth going into the braking zone for Three, but he didn’t seem ready for my move, missed his braking marker and clipped the back of my bike. I managed to stay upright but when I looked back to see Booth he was cart-wheeling off the track.
He eventually stopped but he didn’t get up.
As soon as I finished the lap I rode to where Booth was laying, handed my bike to one of the marshals and went to see how he was doing. He’d just come to and was disoriented and dazed.
“Were we racing or practicing?” he asked, realizing he had been doing something motorcycle-related but not quite sure what.
“We were racing, Dave,” I replied, “you okay?”
“My shoulder hurts.” he mumbled. “Did I win?”
Roche took the overall victory, followed by Nesbitt and Smith.
Cycle Canada’s Roemer and Graham took third and second spots respectively in the media class, and although I took my second win of the weekend, I felt like shit. I’m one of probably three people in the world who can tolerate Booth’s banter for more than 10 minutes (the others being himself and an imaginary friend), and I would have much rather finished a hard-fought second place to him than to have won by attrition with him in the back of an ambulance with a concussion.
Most of you will be pleased to know that he’s doing fine and back to his unusual form, ready to take more blows to the head in the boxing ring. And though he might miss the next round at St-Eustache, he says he should be back by the following round at Shubie.
The next time we do meet, however, if I see boxing gloves, I’m off.
For more information on the CBR250R racing series, click here. Thanks to Honda Canada for supplying a bike to thrash around on and to David Booth for making the weekend so much fun.
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