photos by Heather Bashow and Jacob Black
I am my own worst enemy.
I remember thinking “Holy crap! I’m in third! No way I’m going to hold this position – I think I’ll be happy if I end up fifth.” And before I knew it, I was eighth.
That’s where I ended the first of four races on my Kawasaki Ninja 400 at the first full national round of the Canadian Superbike Championship season, and the first points-paying round for my Amateur Lightweight Sportbike class.
On a bike, self-doubt can be dangerous; on a racetrack, it can be debilitating. And to top it all, my negative, nagging inner voice is a goddamned moron. I started that race eighth on the grid, outside, third row. By the end of Turn 1, I was fifth. By the end of lap one: third.
I had dropped into the 1m19s bracket for the first time in my short career at Shannonville Motorsports Park and felt comfortable. I was smooth and capable of holding that pace. The only barrier to progress was my brain.
Looking at the lap chart, you can spot the exact moment I got in my own head. My times went off by two seconds immediately and kept getting worse from there.
In Saturday’s second race, I started poorly and my seven-race-old tires fell off a cliff. The race was interrupted after two scary crashes at different ends of the track. On the restart I had no confidence in the rear tire, and I faded from eighth to a disappointing 11th.
The Dunlop Q3s are much, much stickier than the Alphas we ran on last year, but they wear far faster, too. Where two sets would get me through the season before, I need a set every weekend now. Also, they fall off that big cliff when they do get to the end of their life, so if you happen to race on Q3s and feel like you are starting to have them move, that’s the time to change. Don’t wait a session, it can bite you.
Sunday saw me lining up from the same disappointing third-row places as the day before, but with a renewed desire to ride consistently for the entire race, and focus on racing the track.
My start saw me making up ground off the grip, but a five-way kerfuffle into Turn 2 had my eyes wide, my buttocks clenched and my hand reaching for the brake lever. I bailed out – this time wisely – and settled in behind that angry pack in eighth. It took too long to pass the next rider, and on the same lap I made that pass I was passed by someone else, and so stayed in ninth. Too much ground was lost and I stayed ninth, but crucially I kept upping my pace, and rode consistent high 1m19/low 1m20s times from start to finish.
That left one more race to meet the first of my original targets for the weekend: a fifth-place finish. Having done a 1m19 on Saturday, I was aching to do a 1m18s lap on Sunday. A 1m19.036s is heartbreakingly close, but not good enough.
Neither is sixth place. Especially given I was once again running third for a brief period during the race. The positive is I ran under 1m20s each and every lap of the race, and that I had some furious back-and-forth battles with Mark Rocha during both of Sunday’s races, and with my defacto crew chief Alan Burns as well for a short time.
Dialing in the Bike
One of the key reasons I bought the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400 was for its horsepower and torque advantage over the other bikes currently in this class. In the chase for parity, that advantage has been nullified – almost.
The CSBK-issued Power Commander I detailed in my previous update was abandoned for this round, and replaced with a pair of restrictor plates which, placed inside the throttle bodies, reduces the amount of air that can be fed to the cylinders.
That fix immediately bought my bike down from 48.5 hp to under the CSBK’s mandated 42 hp limit, but the torque and horsepower curve is still broader than most other bikes on the grid. In short: I’m closer to everyone, but my stock motor is still more than a match for even some of the more modified donks in the field.
Because I’m the first, and currently only, Ninja 400 on the grid, I’m having to do a lot of the practical testing myself. The original rules package would have robbed me of top speed, so I geared taller, now I have had to re-gear to get the bike to work with the new package. It’s lucky I was at the shakedown weekend, as my problems with the quick shifter and Power Commander unit would not have come to light until too late. As it is, I like the current solution. It brings parity to the class and levels the field.
Though there are some teething problems still when it comes to rules. Alex Berthiaume and John Taverner were both docked two positions for being over horsepower on Saturday, elevating Johann Plancque and Neil Graham to the podium behind race winner Jake LeClair. Taverner was also moved from fourth to sixth on Sunday for the same infraction.
As well as dialing in the bike, I’m still really building it. I received bodywork on the Saturday morning. Alan Burns delivered it by hand from 613 Motorsports in Ottawa, where it was express shipped from BC company FlexiGlass. The bodywork is an excellent fit: every dimple and mark line up with the bolt holes, and it took us less than an hour to install the very first Ninja 400 racing bodywork in Canada.
Unfortunately, by Sunday afternoon, I’d worn a hole in my brand-new belly pan. It turns out the stock suspension is too soft for the speeds we’re now running. The lateral forces and lean angle combine to scrape the belly pan on the pavement during some corners, particularly on the left-hand side. It looks like I may have to buy racing forks with stiffer springs, just to keep the bodywork off the deck.
This is frustrating as I promised my wife I’d stop spending money, and I’m otherwise perfectly happy with the stock suspension. It’s far more compliant and stable than the modified Ninja 300 I rode last year, but the ride height is clearly an issue.
The Canadian racing community is one of the best there is. Evans Racing allowed me to pit with them for the weekend as Alan Burns was a late arrival. Pitting between Matt Simpson and Connor Campbell not only gave my daughter and I a base camp, but access to the experience, expertise and expanded tool box of Steve Evans (Matt’s father).
The two bikes either side of me had the crashes that caused the red flag interruption to my second Saturday race, but both Matt and Connor bounced back for solid finishes. The team of people surrounding both bikes on Saturday afternoon, all offering help and support, was impressive.
Jake LeClair claimed both national series CSBK races, while Alex Berthiaume took out both RACE Regional Lightweight Production Races.
LeClair is the national championship favourite and he’s in a class of his own aboard his 2018 Yamaha R3, running consistent 1m16s laps, a full two seconds a lap clear of the field. Behind him, the gap between second and about 10th is far smaller than the time sheets might hint. The difference between glory and disappointment is a moment’s hesitation.
Any mistake is seized upon by not one, but two or even three riders, and the battles are frantic.
That’s why I’m left so frustrated. To have such an ambitious goal within my grasp, to be within a whisker of a genuine podium position and not seal the deal, is gut wrenching.
Even being 0.036s off my target time of 1m18s is agonizing. Proper athletes, the sort who win Stanley Cups and SuperBowls and MotoGP world championships, know how to focus forward and use that frustration for fuel.
They don’t look back.
I need to focus my eyes forward.
Round Two of the Canadian Superbike Championship will take place at Grand Bend, Ontario, June 8-10.
CSBK Amateur Lightweight SportBike Round 1 Results, Saturday May 26, 2018:
|2||74||Johann Plancque||Kawasaki||Ninja 300||1:17.606|
|6||64||Ryan White||Kawasaki||Ninja 300||1:18.033|
|11||707||Jacob Black||Kawasaki||Ninja 400||1:20.402|
|13||56||Patrick Barnes||Kawasaki||Ninja 300||1:22.989|
|15||23||Tyler Moore||Kawasaki||Ninja 300||1:22.842|
|17||665||Stanley Moran||Kawasaki||Ninja 300||1:24.622|
|18||45||Aimee Snelson||Kawasaki||Ninja 300||1:32.822|
|DNS||901||Matt Simpson||Kawasaki||Ninja 300|
|DNS||814||Connor Campbell||Kawasaki||Ninja 300|
CSBK Amateur Lightweight SportBike Round 2 Results, Sunday May 27, 2018:
|3||64||Ryan White||Kawasaki||Ninja 300||1:17.709|
|4||74||Johann Plancque||Kawasaki||Ninja 300||1:18.570|
|9||707||Jacob Black||Kawasaki||Ninja 400||1:19.846|
|11||23||Tyler Moore||Kawasaki||Ninja 300||1:19.604|
|13||901||Matt Simpson||Kawasaki||Ninja 300||1:19.817|
|15||814||Connor Campbell||Kawasaki||Ninja 300||1:20.196|
|16||56||Patrick Barnes||Kawasaki||Ninja 300||1:21.568|
|17||22||JF Cloutier||Yamaha||YZF-R3||Manually Lapscored|
|19||665||Stanley Moran||Kawasaki||Ninja 300||1:23.979|
|20||45||Aimee Snelson||Kawasaki||Ninja 300||1:32.917|