We told you earlier this week how the big race went down on the weekend. Not the Moto GP in Brno. Not the Canadian Superbike Championship that gave Jordan Szoke his crown again. No – we’re talking about the Kawasaki Ninja 300 series, where CMG contributor and amateur racer JP Schroeder was entered and instructed not to disgrace Canada Moto Guide. You can read all about the weekend here, but don’t take it from us – here’s the story in JP’s own words. – Ed.
WORDS: JP SCHROEDER;
PHOTOGRAPHY: SAMANTHA DYE
Mosport. Can’t get myself to call it anything else.
One very special place, one very fast track. My favourite.
It’s called Canadian Tire Motorsport Park now, but it’s always been a unique race track because it has this elusive quality of flow. It is a mind-bending race track where things happen slowly in your brain while averaging the highest speeds compared to any other Canadian race tracks.
So when CMG called and offered a chance to race there, hell yeah, I was in!
I’m not a particularly good racer but I am passionate about motorcycles and racing. I’ve enjoyed a few decent results over the years, the odd podium here and there, and a recognized affinity to ride strange bikes. I call it the goofy syndrome, where if you do well you get your friends’ accolade for riding fast that thing (insert what you like here)`, and if you are slow the excuses are ready.
I’ve had the opportunity to race the nationals at CSBK on a BMW R1100S back in the Canadian Thunder days, a Harley-Davidson XR1200X when Harley supported the spec class for the last year in 2013, and a Honda CBR250R in 2014 in the last year Honda supported that class.
I missed my chance to sign up for the Kawasaki Ninja 300 class in 2016 partly because the details were late to be released, and partly because I’d enjoyed a fun year racing the regionals with the Honda CBR250R and I wasn’t ready to sell it.
Needless to say I was really interested in trying the Ninjette with perhaps an eye on entering the series in 2017…
Pumped by my new boss Editor Mark (flattery will get you everywhere – Ed.), and feeling privileged to ride for CMG at CTMP where I first met Rob Harris back in 2001, I skipped work and headed for the track late Thursday night. Friday morning I met with Kawasaki’s Brad Goodbody and Jean-Philippe Brunet to take the Ninja #59.
I had told Jacob Black of AutoTRADER.com that I would go easy on the first practice session and show him some lines, since it was his first time on this intimidating track. That went to hell the minute I peeled off the blend line and tucked in full throttle up the crest of Turn 2. Oh well.
On a small displacement, low-horsepower bike like the Ninja 300, the name of the game at CTMP is: keep it pinned! Costa Mouzouris told me that it was possible to keep the throttle WFO into Turn 8 in 6th gear and let the cornering slow you down for 9, as they were doing at the invitational round in 2015. He did suggest I don’t try it in the first practice…
So I knew that every corner where I wasn’t holding the throttle hard against its stops and tucked in, I would be losing ground to the fast riders up front.
A few things became obvious right from the first session. Firstly, the engine needs to be spinning with lots of revs to accelerate – anything below 10,000 and you are losing ground. The quick shifter is pretty cool (I had never raced with one) and saves time with quick, clean upshifts at full throttle, but it is very sensitive and I caught it a few times by mistake. I also got a few false neutrals or unexpected downshifts which I assumed were caused by my clumsiness with my left foot. The front brake felt like it needed bleeding, or maybe braided lines, because there was a lot of travel with little braking force. Turns out from talking to the other racers that it just is the way it is. That’s too bad, but it turned out to be a non-issue since at CTMP you only really brake for Turn 5… until Jared told me he doesn’t brake at all for 5, just downshifts!
In the end, my biggest problem with the Ninja 300 was mild to severe front-end chatter. I increased the preload slightly, checked the compression and rebound settings against other riders in the class, and got it to work a bit better, but the problem never went away and as a result I never trusted the front end.
That’s a shame because clearly the Dunlop spec class tires had plenty of grip. The wear pattern was showing that I wasn’t really pushing the tire into its limits. Looking at Eric Quintin and Jared Walker’s tires, you could tell without lap times who was fastest.
Fast forward to both races. I usually have good starts and have often beaten Eric Quintin off the line. He’s a faster rider than I am but he’s had to work to pass me in the first lap many a time! The recipe is simple: steady revs to where you think you need to launch the bike (10,000 rpm on the Ninjette), lean far forward, clutch very near the friction point, just enough to load the front and compress the suspension, holding the front brake lightly so as not to creep while keeping an eye on the starting lights. At GO, simultaneously release brake, full throttle, modulate the wheelie with the clutch and catch the next gear while dicing with the others.
I managed good starts in both races and almost kept up with the front runners in both races for the first lap. Then I would get passed and eventually settled in 6th for Saturday and 9th for Sunday.
I had high hopes that I could keep up with the fast guys as I have often raced Eric Quintin and Jared Walker. This weekend, the combination of a loaner bike (Brad: “Don’t crash our bike please’’) and a low risk tolerance meant I backed off after nearly losing the front on chatter in Turn 8 on the first race and then got spooked when Brad Goodbody ran into Bohdie Edie in Turn 3, in front of Guy Caron and myself. After that, I figured I would be happy just beating Jacob Black of Autotrader.com as instructed by Mark my editor-turned-Race Manager.
The race was stopped on a red flag and as we rolled into the pits I learned Jacob had sacrificed himself for a great photo opportunity in Turn 10, when he caught up to me and thought “I can do this!’’ I had been impressed with Jacob’s progress through the weekend, going from being lapped and feeling all down to getting quick and mixing it up mid-pack. As I slowed down behind JP Brunet and Guy Caron, who were dicing all over the track, I was waiting for a last lap opportunity to try to catch up but Jacob’s red flag put an end to the race. Meanwhile Adolfo Silva, a regular in the series, cranked it up a notch and managed to make a ballsy pass inside Turn 1, and I would have had three guys to catch up to!
In the end I was relieved it was over, that I didn’t crash a loaned bike and that my editor was happy. (You beat Jacob Black and that’s all that matters – Ed.) My real boss would have been very upset if I had crashed. At 50, with some responsibilities at the company I work for, my racing is viewed as somewhat suspect!
The essence of these entry-level spec classes is to put competitors on equal machines and keep the costs down. Manufacturers get involved in the hope of fostering young talent to grow into the bigger classes. However, in Canada it seems difficult to get enough people to make these classes a complete success.
I would argue there is a lot of value in these smaller-displacement classes, the racing is (somewhat!) safer if you take out the journalists and the costs are reasonable. Getting involved in a spec class like the Kawasaki Ninja 300 series makes a lot of sense for trackday/would-be racers/older riders as well as kids starting.
Will I sign up for next year’s series after getting a taste of the Ninja? Well… stay tuned!