Photos by Steve Evans, Evan Williams, Ed Dawson and Dave Morash
For a moment, I felt like a real motorcycle racer. I opened the throttle, picked up my knee and tucked in for the short run down the foggy main straight. My Ninja 400 built speed, I opened my shoulders, lifted my chest off the tank and prepared for the braking zone ahead.
The track fell away into an abyss, giving way to a steep, downhill right hand turn. I inhaled my bike seat in horror. Then, for the 100th time this weekend, made it safely, if gingerly, through Atlantic Motorsport Park’s terrifying first turn.
It’s hard to be fast at Shubenacadie, a track lined with slick grass, concrete blocks and deep ravines. Further complicating matters was the weather. Swapping minute-by-minute between torrential rain and biting sun, the track was in a constant state of flux.
If that’s not enough, there was a squadron of local racers, armed to the teeth with talent, trick bikes, and track knowledge. They scoffed at our timidity, and chortled openly as they whipped around the outside of us in Turn 1. Well, around the outside of me.
CSBK Amateur Lightweight points leader Jake LeClair has only lost once this year so far – beaten earlier this month with a narrow margin by Alex Berthiaume on Berthiaume’s home track in Quebec. LeClair returned serve that weekend, beating Berthiaume on the Sunday.
It was LeClair who took out the win on Saturday in round four, but only after a bitter, brutal dogfight with the Nova Scotian locals. On Sunday, discretion was the better part of valour, and Jake settled in for a third. Ahead of him, Scott Alexander banged bars and fairings with fellow local Avery Hart, and despite a horrifying crash on the back straight during Saturday’s warm-up, Hart emerged with a victory aboard a Kawasaki Ninja 250.
That’s the main story of the weekend in the Lightweight Amateur class of the Canadian Superbike Championship, but the field is riddled with story lines.
I am no longer the only Ninja 400 on the grid. Paddock mate and rising star Connor Campbell now has one, and he was fast at Shubie. Were it not for an ill-fated switch to wet-weather tires and then a five-second jump-start penalty, he’d have finished a long way ahead of me in Sunday’s race. As it was, he beat me across the line by less than a tenth of a second, with Toni Sharpless another tenth behind me.
Jake’s younger brother Ben is also gaining speed rapidly in his rookie season, and spent his time at Shubie battling with Ryan White. The difference in all battle groups is microscopic – one small error can drop you out of the fight and cost you as much as three places.
To be honest, on a Ninja 400, on dry tires, on a dry track, I should have been ahead of Sharpless and Campbell, well into the fight with Aaron Burns and Matt Simpson for sixth. Instead, I was too timid trying to pass both Toni and Connor, so relegated myself to eighth. It would have been 10th, if not for Matt and Connor copping jump-start penalties.
Simpson was full of confidence after his first win in the previous weekend’s regional race at Shannonville, but he went out on worn rain tires in Race 2, and Burns was able to hold him off—it helped that he was on DOT rubber on the now-dry track.
Less positive was the red-flag-causing crash of our other paddock-mate, Adolfo Silva. He disappeared off the edge of turn one, with his bike on top of his right knee. Silva is sore but will be back next month at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
CTMP promises to turn on cracking races right through the field. In Pro Superbike, Samuel Trepanier led Jordan Szoke briefly in Nova Scotia, and the duo traded fastest laps in a chess-match battle for supremacy. Trepanier gave Szoke a big run at CTMP last year, expect more of the same. Ben Young is only getting closer to Szoke, too, so you can expect a thriller at old Mosport.
With CTMP so close to Toronto, we should have a big crowd, and they’ll be well rewarded with quality, close racing. If you come out, make sure you stop by the autoTRADER.ca/Canada Moto Guide Beckner Trailers trailer and say hi.
I’ll be there with my 400. It’s unknown how many 400s will show up for our grand finale, but this bike’s class-leading torque and horsepower will be a serious advantage on the long, flowing Bowmanville circuit.
I intend to capitalize the best I can on that advantage, because CTMP has kicked my backside good and proper in the past.
In my debut in 2016 I crashed hard enough to break my left hand and wrist, and suffer a small concussion. In 2017, I tore up my rotator cuff quite badly and left with a far larger concussion. The aim is simple: Finish the weekend upright and maximize the advantages I have.
For a variety of reasons, this might be my last opportunity to get a big result at my favourite track and I intend to go big.