Photos: Richard Seck
Back in 2002, CMG Online went racing for the first time in the newly-formed Canadian Thunder Series. Team CMG’s racers were Costa Mouzouris on a Buell Firebolt, who’d just started writing for the site that year, and JP Schroeder, a keen amateur with a BMW R1100S. Both were from Quebec and both were fast.
This is the first story from that series, which ran through the season and which you can still find in our archives. It was a classic CMG misadventure: broken machinery saved by the generosity of Canadian riders.
Both Costa and JP are still with us, of course, and riding and racing as well as ever. JP will represent Team CMG at the Ninja 300 Series this weekend at Mosport Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. We’ll have that story for you on Monday – no need to wait another couple of decades. – Ed.
Intro – Editor ‘ Arris:
So after all the organizing, preparation, scamming freebies and planning world domination, the first race of the Canadian Thunder Series is upon us. This was our chance to shine. To show the world that Team CMG would never be defeated. We were going to show ’em what racing was all about. We were going to kick some derriere!
But racing’s a funny old sport, and Fate was to have other, less glorious plans for Team CMG. Well Fate’s a bastard and Lady Luck was getting the monthly visit from “her little friend”. Bugger.
The Costa Report:
Excuses. Motorcycle racers have bags of excuses, ready to justify crappy results on the racetrack. They’ll blame everyone and everything from trackside marshals to low tire pressures for their lousy performance.
In keeping with this long-standing tradition, I’ve gone through my bag o’scuses and pulled out a whole slew of them to justify my fifth place (out of eight) finish at this past weekend’s inaugural Canadian Thunder race.
Rubber side down, slow moving vehicles to the right
Upon arriving at Shannonville, I decided to practice on the OEM tires, to save my new Pirelli racing rubbers for qualifying and racing. I figured that since I would still be breaking the bike in during the first practice sessions, the stock rubber would suffice. Well, I toasted the stock tires in no time. So much so that I had to either cut the practice session short or crash the bike. I was getting into these long scary slides where either the rear would kick out on bumps or the front would push halfway into a turn. Not good.
To muster my spirits, Santa Seck showed up with a brand new Arai RX-7RR4 helmet that he pried off the hands of the Full-Bore people with the help of Arai.
On Saturday, I stiffened the suspension before the single practice session we had, got on the track and was surprised at how well the bike handled. The race-compound Pirellis stick like slicks. I greatly improved my lap times compared to the previous day’s, was feeling more comfortable on the bike and was passing bikes that were passing me the day before. The only problem was a vague feeling while leaned well over.
I figured further fine-tuning of the suspension would cure the vagueness. Still, I was feeling quite confident and pleased after 10 minutes on the track. Then I heard the first bike come up on me from behind – when you race in any twin-cylinder class, you know when you’re about to be passed; you hear the growl well in advance of the move.
I was preparing to get passed as we moved onto the front straight but was dismayed when I saw who it was doing the passing. At first I caught the black front fender out of the corner of my eye, then the rest of the bike went by … and by … and by. It was JP Schroeder, my team-mate on his long and heavy BMW. It took him the entire front straight just to get that thing by me. It took me two entire laps to get over it.
I couldn’t believe he had gotten by me on a bike that was six times as long and three times as heavy as my Buell. After he got ahead, I’d creep up on him going into and through the turns, but he’d pull away from me on the exit. Not quite as if I was parked, but at least as if I was looking for a spot. Access to 94 rear-wheel ponies and knowing how to steer them works well regardless of what they’re pushing.
After that practice session, I realized I was outgunned by most of the competition. I silently prepared for the qualifier and contemplated my destiny. I felt confident I could pull off a top five finish but doubts began to seep into my mind. I focused my thoughts on suspension set-up as increasing power was not an option. I adjusted the sag, put the damping where I thought it felt right and would just try to hold my ground in the qualifier.
Those who do not qualify need not apply
On the starting grid, I was on the third position, next to JP, Darren James and Philippe Durand, with the rest of the Canadian Thunder field behind us, but one row behind the SV 650 riders.
When the flag dropped, I let the clutch out with the revs up. A bike that’s as short as a GP bike but has big bike torque is not easy to launch. Needless to say my start was less than stellar. I got a great view of the beautiful blue sky and was left having to battle too many slower riders just to try to catch the tail end of the front runners. I settled into fifth place and rode out the rest of the qualifier there.
There were a couple of SV riders between JP, who was in fourth, and myself, but I would have had to push too hard to pass them. Even if I did get past, I still couldn’t match JP’s speed.
Darren James qualified his X1 on the pole with Bob Close on a Ducati 750 SS in second, and Philippe Durand on his M900 in third. JP on his R1100S got fourth and me on my Firebolt fifth. However, I wasn’t unhappy. The motorcycle was feeling even better with my revised adjustments, and I was feeling more and more comfortable on it with every lap.
To celebrate our first outing, Editor ‘Arris and Seck decided we do an action shoot on the track with the two CMG bikes. The Big Cheese would handle the steering duties in Seck’s VW and JP and I would follow, while Seck clicked off the pictures, hanging out the rear window.
We played chicken like this for about 20 minutes when the two crew chiefs in the car decided to call it a day. JP and I started for the pits when I noticed JP looking down the right side at his bike. He pulled to a stop and started fiddling with his shifter. It would move freely up and down but with no spring tension and wouldn’t shift the gears.
We were later able to pinpoint the cause of the problem thanks to the shop manual JP brought along (he really does think of everything). Unfortunately, the bike would not be racing anymore this weekend.
Team CMG was devastated; JP was almost in tears (women love him for his sensitive side), ‘Arris was asking how much worse our debut could get, and Mr. Seck was figuring out how we could possibly get JP back on his bike. I was feeling totally rejected, like Picotte, almost expecting a letter of dismissal from the offices of CMG – “Dear Mr. Mouzouris, we regret to inform you that your services will no longer be required…” (that’s the sentence I was looking for. Thanks Costa – ‘Arris)
I bashfully reminded my crew that all hope was not lost, that I was still there and we still had a slim chance at a podium finish. My team reassured me they had full confidence in my racing skills and then quickly proceeded to look for another bike for JP.
Mr. Seck approached Darren James and asked if JP could borrow his S1 (the bike he uses in Twins) for Sunday’s final and in a move of total sportsmanship and without a moment’s hesitation, Darren agreed, saving CMG’s collective ass.
In a month of Sundays
Sunday practice went without incident for me, while JP got accustomed to his new ride. I tweaked the suspension once again, softening it further and got good results in doing so but was still not able to match the speed of the front-runners. I did manage to stay with Durand on his Monster for about 10 laps but dropped back when we got into traffic. My confidence was high.
I started the race on the inside of the second row with JP on the outside of row one. Once again I attempted to launch my Firebolt into space off the start and got to the rear of the field quick. I passed Don Morris on his X1 going into turn four on the first lap and then passed Jamie Fitzgerald on his S1 going into two on the next lap. JP was next in my sights, although he obviously knew how to launch a Buell better than me.
There were two SVs between us and I slowly reeled them in, JP included. I got by one of them on the brakes into corner two and got past the second one going into four.
I finally caught JP going into turn six; a sharp left-hander, and stuck my wheel inside at the entry of the turn. Normally, doing this gets the outside rider’s attention because he now hears that you’re there. Not in this case however.
With my EPA-friendly exhaust note, JP just kept on riding that Buell smooth and fast. Very fast. Too fast for someone who had never ridden it before – had one morning practice session on it, got on it several hours later, and was now heading for a fourth-place finish. I came close to him but eventually ran out of time.
He finished in fourth place and I in fifth, way behind the leaders. I congratulated JP on his stellar performance on an unknown machine and proceeded to sulk in privacy.
Trophies and prize money were handed out and the first Canadian Thunder race was a success. Everyone had huge grins on their faces after the final, spectator interest was high, the weather turned out great and all the racers who showed for the first race said they’d come back for the next one.
Upon leaving, Philippe Durand mentioned to me that he had acquired a new 900SS to replace his M900 for the next race. I also got news that the Brampton Cycle/Ducati Toronto crew would be present to add some more competition to the mix.
Myself, I’ll be making phone calls to try to get the necessary hardware to make my bike more competitive. I’ll have to fabricate an exhaust system, do some head work, check up on who offers injection system components (so I can map it to match the modifications I plan on making) and convert it to chain drive so that I can have a wider gearing choice. And all this in less than two weeks! All these mods should take care of my complaints so I’ll have no excuses next time out.
Of course, I am a racer. I always have excuses.
The JP Files:
Friday and Saturday practice
It’s my first time on the track this season and I’m getting butterflies and trying to think about excuses for not racing. But the idea of facing the Editor proves overwhelming and I quickly get into my leathers and warm-up the BMW (oh yes, don’t mess with the Editor – ‘Arris).
On the track, the Beemer positively flies and I can feel a better response and a stronger top end that my newly fitted Boxer Performance inlet ducts give me. Unfortunately I keep missing shifts, hitting the rev limiter and the old Dunlop tires are starting to feel a bit toasted, prompting me to slap on the new Pirellis. It’s a revelation – I can’t believe the amount of grip. My lap times drop and I’m starting to really learn the track, which is short and fairly tight – not exactly R1100S preferred territory.
I feel good, the bike runs great, the new Arai helmet fits well and is very light, and I’m starting to think that I might just run in front with the fast boys. I’m excited.
The heat race proves me right, as I get a decent start and work my way through the slower SV650 riders. Only two Canadian Thunder racers are in front of me: Bob Close on his trick Ducati 750SS and of course, my forever competitor, Darren James on his even tricker Buell X1.
On the last lap I’m holding third but I can hear Philippe Durand’s Ducati Monster 900. He’s close. Too close. I miss the shift into fourth, lose drive and he passes me on the inside to turn five. Darn. I cross the line in fourth place, but I’m happy with that. Tomorrow is looking good.
That all changes in an instant, as a little later in the day we go on the track, Costa and I, with the CMG boys leading in a Jetta for some pictures. As soon as the photo session ends, boom, the S’s transmission selector fails.
A quick conference with Costa and Philippe determines that this is a major problem, requiring the transmission to be removed. At this stage in the weekend, that’s terminal. It’s race over for me and a severe blow for the ‘Maytag of racing’ after several seasons of bullet-proof dependency.
However, all is not lost, and some quick thinking by Mr. Seck and a visit with Darren James, sees me with the use of his “rain bike”, a Buell S1. I can’t believe my luck.
It’s race day and I’m nervous. I’m on a track I don’t know well, on a borrowed bike with different tires and I only have 10 practice laps before the big race. I keep reminding myself to not drop Darren’s bike, aware that if I do I might be the owner of a rather trick, but expensive Buell. Thankfully the session goes well, allowing me to work out the gearing, brake and shift points of the S1.
On the starting grid I keep the revs low, drop the clutch and give it a handful. It’s a little crowded in turn one as we all fight for real estate at speed. Before turn 2, Darren, Bob and Philippe are already in front, but I haven’t seen Costa yet. The SV riders are pretty fast and I try to race my way through them in an attempt to keep the leaders in sight.
By halfway point I’m out of breath and my mouth is dry, as I struggle to push my body after a winter of no riding! Still, Costa hasn’t passed me yet, so I charge on. As the end of the race comes close I can feel his Firebolt very, very near, but he fails to get past. I end up in fourth place and am relieved to see it end and give Darren his bike back, unharmed and still under his ownership! I’m happy with that result, considering my unfamiliarity with the bike.
I have to thank the Buell crew and Darren in particular for their sportsmanship. Had it not been for them, I would not have raced. Of course, the other upside of this is that I now know my competition better.
The S1 is actually easier to ride than the BMW in some respects, mainly in its agility. I could literally place the bike wherever I wanted, whereas the Beemer requires planning ahead. However, the Beemer does feel much more powerful, with more revs to spare and amazing drive out of corners, as well as being more stable at high speeds. The BMW brakes also offer more feel and precision, even though the bike is heavier.
Although I appreciate the use of the S1, I can’t wait to get the BMW back in the race.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a transmission to strip.
And the winners are…
This might be a good time to say that Costa and JP of Team CMG have decided to offer any prize money that they win to charity. This was a decision that they came to themselves, without any prodding by myself (I actually asked them several times if they were absolutely sure). The idea is to donate any winnings from the first three races (RACE sanctioned) to an Ontario-based charity, with the last three races (ASM sanctioned) to a Quebec-based charity.
Readers will be pleased to know that we found a very deserving organization for the Ontario money. MEC’A is a new charity that helps Motorcycle Editors Called ‘Arris buy the necessities of life, such as Scotch, loose women and exotic massages. Failing the approval of this worthy charity, we’ll donate it to the upcoming BAD Ride instead, of which the proceeds go towards the very worthy Toronto Distress Centre (another potentially useful resource for members of MEC’A).