Title photo: Rob O’Brien/CSBK
Snow is just around the corner, and Canadian road racing is just about done for the season. Here’s a look at how our country’s fastest riders did in 2018.
The big question in CSBK this year, as always, was “can anyone beat Jordan Szoke?” The answer was yes, and no.
Szoke was only beaten in a single race in 2017’s series, and went unbeaten the two years before that. In 2018, he looked like he might sweep the year’s racing again, but on the final weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, he had serious mechanical trouble that meant Ben Young won Race 1 and longtime rival Kenny Riedmann won Race 2 of the doubleheader.
That trouble meant Szoke might have won the CSBK series, but he didn’t earn as many points in the BMW Motorrad Race Trophy. You can find more details on the Race Trophy’s rules here and here, but in a nutshell, it’s BMW’s in-house competition for road racing racers. Privateers who use BMW racebikes earn points in various road racing series around the world, and are ranked against each other. Szoke’s results, combined with a lack of opportunity to accumulate points due to the short CSBK season, mean he sits in seventh place overall right now, but that number is going to change when he gets the points bonus for winning his series championship this year. Yeah, the system confuses us, too.
Szoke says he’s returning to CSBK next season, not that there was a whole lot of doubt about it. He’s still winning far too many races to retire.
Looking into next season, there’s one more big question about CSBK’s future: “What’s going to happen to the Quebec round?” This will be the final year of road racing at St-Eustache; if CSBK doesn’t find an alternate location in Quebec, it’ll be down to a handful of races in Ontario and one in Nova Scotia.
Unless, of course, it resumes racing out west. There’s still plenty of gossip about potential events in Alberta or British Columbia, although there are many hurdles to overcome to make that practical. However, series organizer Colin Fraser says organizers are working on bringing the series to BC’s new Area 27 track; if that really does happen, it would certainly make the series look good. A new location in Quebec would really be the icing on the cake, but that’s going to be tricky, with no obvious choices that are easy to work with. Fraser says CSBK is working on a solution here as well, though.
It’s a tradition as old as Canadian motorcycle racing. Given our country’s limited opportunities for road racers, many, many riders have left for greener pastures, or at least, less bumpy racetracks.
This year, Darren James, Alex Dumas, Braeden Ortt, Jonathan Finn and Dan Kruger all raced in the US or overseas, all seeing some measure of success.
Alex Dumas had a dynamite year in MotoAmerica’s Junior Cup series, winning 10 of 17 races aboard KTM Orange Brigade/JP43 Training’s RC390R. Some of those wins were pretty big, too, including the opening race at Road Atlanta, as well as a first place at Laguna Seca, which is always a big deal.
He also earned three DNFs, and had a DNS at Road Atlanta. But when he completed a race, he never finished off the podium except for a seventh at the rain-soaked New Jersey event.
Dumas won the Junior Cup championship, and earned a wildcard ride at the Magny-Cours World Superbike event, in the World Supersport 300 class. Alas, his results weren’t what he’d hoped, with a 25th-place finish and a ride through some gravel on Lap 1. Still, the kid is clearly fast, and going places. For next year, he isn’t eligible to race the Junior Cup, after winning this year, so he’s going to have to move to another series. For now, Dumas is weighing the possibility of moving over to Europe to race the SSP 300 class in World Superbike, or staying in MotoAmerica to race in Supersport class.
Kruger raced in the Chinese Pan Delta series as well as a wildcard entry in Finland’s Imatra street circuit race. It was a challenging year; after his huge crash at Suzuka in 2016, he figured his career was over, but after hours of training every day, he realized a comeback was possible, and he didn’t want to end the career on anything but his own terms. When he returned to the track, he was 9 kg lighter, and in the best shape of his life, although he said getting back in racing form and reacquiring the confidence level necessary to race was more difficult.
But the hard work paid off, as he ended up taking second overall in the Chinese championship aboard a Kawasaki ZX-10R and earned a respectable 11th at Finland’s road racingS event. This year, Kruger said he really felt at one with the bike, although it wasn’t easy, as he still dealt with the aftermath of his previous injuries all season. He also had issues with his arm pump, which almost derailed him in the final race in the Chinese series — he says he was lucky the race was red-flagged and not restarted, as he might have had to drop out, and would have lost his second place.
For 2019, he’s re-upped his contract with Kawasaki, planning to race in China again, and most of his sponsors are back. He’s got a bigger budget, and the goal is to win the series. As for the street circuit stuff, he says he actually turned down a full ride in the International road racing Racing Championship and backed out of the Frohburg and Macau events this year to spend more time with his family. But he says his heart is really in road racing, and he’s hoping that even if he can’t run a full season next year, he’ll be able to enter a handful of IRRC events as a wildcard.
Jonathan Finn ran in the Spanish Pre Moto3 championship this year, based in Valencia and working on getting up to speed on Euro tracks. His highlight of the year was a pair of top 10 finishes at Circuito de Albacete. It helps that he’s living full-time in Europe now, as before, he was traveling back and forth to Spain for each race, making it hard to stay on top of his game.
So far, Finn’s greatest takeaway is a realization that he needs to learn the European racing style of using cornering to keep up top speed and maximize his acceleration zone. His European season isn’t quite over; his last race will be at Jerez, and after that, he’s going to make an announcement about next year’s plans. He’s hoping to stay in Europe, continuing to work on his racecraft and ultimately, he wants to earn a spot in Moto3 so he can work his way up to the world championship level.
Braeden Ortt was back in action in MotoAmerica this year, piloting a Yamaha R6 for Tuned Racing in the Supersport championship.
The Calgarian finished fifth in Superstock 600 last year, but was down a bit farther down the standings this year, ending in ninth overall with 128 points (just a single point behind eighth-place Cory West). This year, JD Beach absolutely tore up MotoAmerica’s 600 series, and Hayden Gillim picked off anything left over; they finished with 388 points and 300 points respectively, with third-place Valentin Debise all the way back at 182 points. So, if you take out the two outliers, Ortt’s results look a lot better. He finished top 10 in most races, top five in several and earned a second in Virginia and a third in Utah. Were it not for a few DNFs, top-five overall finish would have been a possibility.
Darren James hasn’t raced in CSBK for some time, but he’s been busy elsewhere. This year, after a re-appearance at the Daytona 200, only a year after announcing his retirement there, he took seventh. Not bad.
Then he took a stab at the Irish street racing scene, entering the North West 200. Alas, the NW200 stabbed back; James lost some fingertips off his left hand. Most riders would not find that an encouraging result, but it didn’t stop James. Doctors told him he’d be out of action all summer, but he was back at the gym in three weeks, and back on a bike in nine.
The quick return paid off, as James headed south to race in MotoAmerica’s Twins series and earned a third at Sonoma. After 17 years of racing AMA and MotoAmerica events, it was his first podium in the US, and he was positively ecstatic over the result. So happy, in fact, that he’s decided to race MotoAmerica next year, aboard a Yamaha twin again. He’s also hoping to tackle the NW200, the Manx TT, the Ulster GP, and even the Isle of Man TT, if he can get entries.
His 2018 season isn’t over, either. James is headed back overseas for the Sunflower Trophy races in Ireland next weekend (October 19-20). We’ll keep an eye on his results there and keep you posted.