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Canadian Superbike preview

This weekend, the Canadian Superbike season opens at Shannonville Motorsport Park. It’s another year of changes for the country’s premier motorcycle racing series, with some familiar faces absent, news of a track closure, and a brand-new entry-level racing series to boot.

Practice starts this Friday, with Superpole qualifying on Saturday, along with the first race in the Lightweight Supersport double-header.

The feature races (Pro Superbike, Pro Sportbike, etc.) run on Sunday, along with the second race of the Lightweight Supersport class.

New race series

For years, CSBK has run an entry-level roadracing chsmpionship, but it has always been a spec series. For the past couple of years, it’s been a Kawasaki Ninja 300 series. Before that, it was a Honda-sponsored CBR250 series, and a CBR125 series before that.

This year, that changes as the newly-launched Amateur Lightweight Sport Bike series is open to different brands and models, not just one bike, as long as the machine meets the spec requirements. That means we’re going to see Honda vs. Kawasaki vs. Yamaha vs. KTM, with 500 cc twins vs. 390 cc singles. That’s a wide variety of machines, which makes it tricky to keep a level playing field.

The new Lightweight Sport Bike series will likely be the hardest-contested showdown every weekend. Photo: Brian J. Nelson

Similar European series use a spec ECU to govern power, but that isn’t an option here, so officials will be using Dynojet equipment (rear-wheel dyno and electronics) and a spec Hindle exhaust along with the usual weight, fuel capacity and horsepower restrictions to help keep things fair and competitive.

As series organizer Colin Fraser says, “The goal is for this to serve as a racer development class, not a tuning showcase … We anticipate that there will be teething issues, and the rules and their outline have been built with this in mind.”

It’s the biggest change CSBK has seen in years, and has the potential to bring in many new racers, so the progress of the new series will be interesting to watch. CMG’s Managing Editor Jacob Black will be competing in the series this summer, aboard his Kawasaki Ninja 400, so we’ll be sharing his race reports with you as the series progresses.

While many familiar faces are returning, some of the fastest racers from the past few years aren’t coming back.
The racers

Many of the familiar faces are back this year, but some key individuals aren’t racing the 2018 season.

In the Pro Superbike class, Jordan Szoke is returning, as the reigning champion once again. Ben Young is back as well, along with Michael Leon, Samuel Trepanier, Mitch Card, Jeff Williams and Matt McBride. Frank Trombino was supposed to be back, but he was injured in the season’s first RACE regional event, so we might not see him for a while.

In Pro Sport Bike, Tomas Casas is back to defend his #1 plate. Mitch Card is returning as well, along with Louis Raffa and Jacob Shaw-O’Leary.

But some of the fastest riders aren’t returning in 2018. We’ve been told Kenny Riedmann isn’t coming back this year. Riedmann was the rider who pressed Szoke the hardest in the past couple of years, taking the second spot in the championship in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Bodhi Edie, the last rider to beat Jordan Szoke  in a race (at Grand Bend, in 2017) is also not returning for the season (but maybe a one-off later in the campaign, he says). And Brett McCormick, probably the fastest man in Canada without a Pro Superbike deal, won’t be back either, although the OEMs have been trying to get him aboard their bikes. The financial support wasn’t there for McCormick again this year, so he’s out.

Doug Lawrence, who performed well in CSBK’s amateur series, will not be pursuing the Pro Superbike championship again this year. He’s gone back to flat-track racing in the US.

Doug Lawrence, who entered Pro Superbike with lots of promise last season, is back to flat-tracking, riding a Ducati in the US, and Andrew Nelson is also apparently out of this year’s racing.

Stacey Nesbitt, long one of the fastest Canadian female riders, is also out of this season’s racing, after losing some important sponsorship.

It’s bad to see that many top riders out of the races this year, especially as it’s mostly over the same reason: funding. However, it does mean that some younger racers will now get to showcase their own talents. Card is hungry this year, and Young and Trepanier are also going to be interesting to watch. Young did pre-season testing in Florida this spring, and he will be working with a BMW tech to fine-tune his electronics settings throughout the year, a problem that has long vexed him.

Ben Young is returning, with a more focused approach than before.

Trepanier has supposedly been getting coaching from McCormick, which could help bring his racing to the next level. Leon has also been ramping up his program, with a new 2018 bike and a pre-season test at Jenning; he tried to get into MotoAmerica races at Portland and Road Atlanta as well, but the format for the American races (no practice, only Q1 and Q2 sessions) made it too difficult to qualify on a new track.

Casas is also said to be aiming to move into Pro Superbike contention. He’s run his R6 in that class, but although he’s certainly not dragging his tail, it’s hard to compete with the frontrunners on a supersport. If he gets his hands on a well-sorted superbike, the results could be very interesting. Yamaha’s said to be interested in ramping up its efforts in Pro Superbike, so hopefully we’ll see some developments there.

As for Szoke, he’s still the man to beat. He’s going to be slightly more busy on race weekends this year because wife Amy is moving into Amateur Superbike, but the team has another hand on deck to help with the wrenching this summer. The Canadian championship isn’t Szoke’s only motivation to win this year: he’d like to be in contention for the BMW Motorrad Race Trophy again, especially since this year will see the top Beemer riders face off in a European showdown event, allowing Szoke to prove his talent against the other top racers. He’s definitely into that idea.

With St-Eustache on the way out, CSBK needs to find a new track. Photo: Rob O’Brien
Track troubles

As we told you last month, Autodrome St-Eustache is going to be closed down at the end of 2019; CSBK is headed there this year, and maybe next year, but that’s it. You can bet CSBK staff are going to be brainstorming over the coming months, to figure out where to go next.

The trouble is, while there are several interesting options, they all come with problems. A return trip to Edmonton would allow western racers to participate in the series more easily, and also feasibly make it easier to tack on other western dates, but drives the cost up for easterners who form the backbone of CSBK. There are safety issues at Edmonton as well, but those could potentially be overcome.

Calabogie is expensive and not an ideal set-up for spectators. Mont Tremblant is an interesting track, but comes with complications over noise restrictions and safety.

More race weekends means more expenses for racers, which in turn means a greater need for sponsors. That’s going to make things difficult.

Also, a recurring theme for racers who’ve dropped out is a lack of funding. Racing is expensive, and the more dates are added, the harder it is to find money for it all, especially if those dates are farther away from home.

But having said that, the CSBK series is now down to only five weekends a year, and a total of seven races. Losing another one of those weekends would be a detriment to the series, and hopefully management comes up with a replacement for St-Eustache soon.

This weekend’s schedule is now live at CSBK.ca.

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