The 2019 Canadian Superbike season is over, with new champions in every one of the five series. So what happened, and what’s going to happen in the off-season, with preparations for 2020?
Pro Superbike: The closest it’s been in a while
The 2019 season was the closest we’ve seen the Pro Superbike class in years, with four different race winners (Jordan Szoke, Ben Young, Kenny Riedmann, Samuel Trepanier).
This season, a few things went Young’s way: he had the advantage of riding a familiar bike, he managed to avoid serious crashing during races, and when things did go bad, he bounced back. Despite his crash during Mosport qualifying, he managed to get a podium in Race 1, sealing the deal on his championship. Earlier in the season, when forced off-track at Shubenacadie’s first race, he managed to stay upright and climbed all the way back up through the ranks, stealing the win on the last lap.
For Jordan Szoke, the defending champ, it was the opposite story. Szoke was on a new bike, a Kawasaki ZX-10, and he was unable to get enough track time to nail down his set-up before the season opener at Shannonville. Throughout the year, he had to figure out how to set up the new machine for each track.
Next year, Szoke says he’ll be benefiting from a year of collecting data, and he’ll be more comfortable on the Kawi. Already, he’s planning some off-season mechanical work (tweaking his engine and drivetrain setup) that should make a difference next summer.
Conversely, there’s a good chance Ben Young will be on the BMW S1000 RR that Alex Welsh piloted at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) in the season-ending doubleheader. That means for 2020, Young will be on the back foot again, learning a new machine, while Szoke has a year down on the Kawi, giving him an edge in experience.
Expect great racing as a result. And there are a bunch of other riders who had interesting campaigns in 2019, and who could return with a vengeance in 2020.
Take Sebastien Tremblay, who had a run of terrible luck at the start of the year. He was taken out at Shannonville and Grand Bend, and ended up with a plate on his collarbone after the second crash. If not for that, he most likely would have been a factor in Superbike.
Samuel Trepanier also had some bad luck early on this year, but by year’s end had regained his mojo (he almost won at Shubie, and won at CTMP). If he can come back strong at the start of 2020, he’ll be a threat. And then there’s Kenny Riedmann, who doesn’t attend every race, but is a strong contender for first when he’s on track. Trevor Daley and Tomas Casas are both podium threats as well, and could win under the right circumstances. If Michael Leon could ever escape his constant bad luck (he had a disheartening crash out of second place at Shubenacadie), he’d be another podium threat on many weekends.
This all means Pro Superbike has changed from the formula of the past few years, which saw the same three or four riders on the podium all the time. There are eight racers who all can end up in the top three spots, and that means Szoke and Young are both going to have to battle harder for points next year. Any mistakes, and the other top riders can play the spoiler role.
Pro Sport Bike: Out with the old fast guys, in with the new
For the past couple of years, Pro Sport Bike has arguably been the most entertaining series in Canadian Superbike. It looks like it might stay that way for the forseeable future, despite the wild season in Pro Superbike.
Some of the faster riders from previous years either sat out the season (Mitch Card), skipped most rounds (Jacob Shaw-O’Leary) or saw their results slide a bit (Louis Raffa). But David MacKay certainly stepped up his game. Sebastien Tremblay made an impressive display by winning both races at the final doubleheader, despite his injured shoulder.
However, the most successful rider was Will Hornblower, who took the title. He isn’t a newbie, but he only raced Shannonville in 2018, due to some tough times. He’s still quite young, but he’s been around the track scene a while, as has his R6 racebike (Hornblower originally started wayyyyy back in CSBK’s CBR125 spec series). He put his heart into 2019, getting the crucial win at Shubenacadie to move into the drivers’ seat for the remainder of the championship.
As for Tomas Casas, who won the previous two titles, he spent the summer focused on improving his Pro Superbike results on his new Yamaha R1, but he still challenged all the way to the ending weekend. Unless something changes, we’d expect Casas, Hornblower, and Tremblay to put up a fierce three-way fight again next season, with MacKay playing a big role in some races as well. An uninjured Tremblay should be particularly interesting to watch, as he managed third overall despite his difficulties in the first two races; he landed on St-Eustache’s Pro Sport Bike podium only shortly after being patched up from Grand Bend.
Looking a bit farther down the pecking order, there’s also Christian Allard and Jake LeClair in Amateur Sport Bike. When (if) those guys move to the Pro ranks, there’s bound to be even more great racing as a result.
Amateur Lightweight Sport Bike: Making Roadracing Great Again
The CBR125 and CBR250 series were fun, and launched the career of a few stars (Jodi Christie, Stacey Nesbitt, Tomas Casas, Will Hornblower). However, oldsters were banned; the 250 series was restricted to 13-25 year olds for most of its run. Add in the fact that these were single-brand series, and interest and participation were always going to be limited.
The Lightweight Sport Bike series has changed that. There’s no age limit, and there’s a wide variety of motorcycles permitted, not just a single maker. CSBK has traded the close thrills of a spec series for the battle of the brands, and we get to see it played out twice every weekend. Some of the racing was absolutely spectacular, especially at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, where we saw 11 riders battling for the lead at one point.
On-track and in the pits, the atmosphere is friendly and fun, but these riders are serious about their work, and it shows. The series is building stronger racers. Year-over-year, improvement is obvious not only in the Lightweight series participants, but also in the riders who’ve moved on. Jake LeClair finished second in Amateur Sport Bike this season, and Connor Campbell was third. Those two riders were both frontrunners all last season in Lightweight. Now, LeClair’s even got an invitation overseas to the Yamaha VR46 Master Camp., and brother Ben is the 2019 Lightweight champ, picking up where Jake left off.
This series remained very much a Yamaha-Kawasaki duel for 2019, with the R3-mounted riders mostly at the front, although Kawasakis were competitive. Suzuki doesn’t have anything that really suits this series, but Honda does. Yet no riders besides Matt Simpson (third overall) were really competitive on the CBR500 or the CBR300 (which would admittedly be difficult).
The formula for the series will no doubt be tweaked in 2020; this year, CSBK ran several secondary Lightweight-class races, including Pro-Am events. These races weren’t for points in the CSBK standings, but they did attract lots of participation, and would give mid-pack riders and backmarkers one more reason to stay interested in the series. Stay tuned to see what happens here in 2020.
Track time: What’s on the schedule next year?
With St-Eustache now off the CSBK calendar, organizers are down to only four weekends, and they need at least five to keep title sponsor Mopar happy.
Next week, CSBK officials, along with Ben Young and Jordan Szoke, are going to attend a track day at BC’s Area 27 facility, sponsored by Dunlop. Area 27 only has track days. It doesn’t have any real racing, so nobody knows how tires will handle the track surface under race conditions. This test session should help officials and racers figure out what’s what, and it would be surprising if Area 27 wasn’t on the schedule next year. And if Area 27 makes it, expect CSBK to work hard on an Alberta race as well.
As for Quebec, CSBK’s czar Colin Fraser says he’s continuing to work to replace St-Eustache for 2020. The problem is that 1), he wants to develop a long-term relationship with a track, not just a one-off race, and 2), he’d actually like to have two Quebec events, not just one. But given how hard it’s been to find a facility for even a single race, is that likely? Stay tuned, as we’re sure to hear more about this over the winter.