Photos by Rob MacLennan, Don Empey, and Heather Bashow
It’s Friday and my 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400 is looking rough. White duct tape covers the headlight ports in the stock body work. Another web of tape replaces the passenger seat. When you order a bike that nobody in North America is yet making bodywork for – at least commercially – you have to improvise. Hotbodies has some units, but they’ve all been sold to US racers in the MotoAmerica series. So I’m running in street trim.
And now it looks like I won’t be running this weekend at all.
The fuel rail is fragile, and it is an absolute must that you remove the fuel line from it before trying to move the fuel tank. This is something we now know, as my fuel rail is in pieces on the ground. My Friday is lost, and an entire day of practice time with it.
Frantic phone calls to Belleville Sport and Lawn result in them pulling a rail off one of their sales-floor units, which I’m able to go and collect, and install Friday evening. At least then, I’ll run on Saturday. My problems seem over.
It’s round one of the RACE Regional Series, and the fledgling Canadian Superbike Lightweight Production Class is at Shannonville Motorsports Park for its first hit-out. A non-points shakedown round, it’s time for officials and teams to sort out how the Honda CBR 500, Yamaha YZF-R3 and Kawasaki Ninja 400 fit into the new rulebook. Nobody is here on a KTM 390, though that bike is also eligible.
It’s also the first opportunity for CSBK officials to test out their solution to the Ninja 400’s class-breaking horsepower numbers: a spec Power Commander (engine control unit) module.
We’re told the Dynojet unit will have a locked rev limit of 9,500 (down from the 12,500 rpm stock limit), and that it will ship with the Quick Shifter option activated. But it’s not. The quick shifter isn’t working in my first session, so we plug in the laptop and activate the setting. Immediately, my rev limiter disappears, and my bike breaks out of the CSBK limit on the dyno.
Officials give me a second unit, which takes about 30 minutes to install, and back to the dyno we go. The quick shifter is reactivated, and the rev limit is erased once again. Their solution isn’t going to work, and with only two weeks until Round 1 at Shannonville, CSBK has some work to do.
Motorsport is a mental game as much as anything, and by Saturday afternoon, my mental energy is spent. A day and a half of teething problems have taken their toll.
I’m loose and ragged on the bike, my lines are erratic, and I’m slow. 1m24 is my best lap of the day. The leaders are doing 1m16s, the next group I am targeting is doing 1m19s – 1m21s.
I looked backward over my shoulder during the first CSBK Lightweight Production race, something everybody knows you should never do. I ran off on the back straight and lost three spots.
The bike deserves better. By the time I park the thing on Saturday afternoon I’m struggling to contain my frustration. “I’m at the limit of adhesion, mate”, I tell my crewmate for the weekend, Alan Burns.
“Running out of tire grip?”
“No, mentally. I’m about to lose it”.
Sunday needed to be a better day.
I entered two more classes, giving me one extra practice session and two extra races. This meant six opportunities to test and improve on track, all ahead of the first National points-paying round on May 25-27. In my first session I was immediately quicker, dropping into the 1m23s, but the second session was hampered by traffic.
It wasn’t until the first race of the day that things began to click. That race also happened to be the National CSBK Lightweight Production race. I started 11th of 18 riders, and made up ground to finish fifth, aided by two crashes in front of me. That race was won by Jake LeClair aboard a Yamaha R3. LeClair’s younger brother Ben took second, Matt Simpson third on a Kawasaki Ninja 300.
My other races were also good. In RACE Lightweight Production I started 10th, and finished 5th of 18 finishers. In Lightweight Sportsman, I started 18th of 19 and rode through the pack to finish seventh. In the final race of the day, Lightweight twins, I went from fifth (of only five) and finished third.
A 1m20.682s lap was the best of my day, with consistent 1m22s throughout most races. It’s a good platform from which to start the first national round of the season in two weeks’ time.
At that round, I’m hoping my body work will have arrived, so my bike doesn’t look so hideous, and that CSBK has found a solution to the Power Commander problems, or otherwise solved the Ninja 400 parity issues.
Massive thanks must go to Aaron and Alan Burns, of 613 Motorsport and Burns Racing, who prepared the Ninja 400 for the weekend, as well as to Niagara Race Crafters, who give continued support to my program.
The first round of the Canadian Superbike Championship runs May 25-27 and will see all six national classes, including the big boys in Pro Superbike and Pro Sportbike, do battle at Shannonville Motorsports Park.
I’ll let you know if I crash.