It was too good to be true. I mean think about it, nearly a full season of road racing in the CBR250R Race Series media championship, shared by Editor ‘Arris and I, with a clean sweep of wins and flawless performances leading into the last two rounds at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. Morale was stratospheric.
But this is CMG so you know disaster is inevitable, and it struck last weekend in the very last race of the season, Fortunately for CMG, this was after the championship was settled.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here, so firstly here’s a brief summary of the season’s events.
If you remember, during the opening two rounds at Shannonville , the National Post’s David Booth and I got together in a very unromantic kinda way, causing him to crash and sending him to the hospital with a concussion and torn AC ligaments in one of his shoulders.
I was unscathed and went on to win both finals that weekend. Although Booth was riding remarkably well, unfortunately his injuries kept him away from the next few rounds, effectively taking away any chance for him of winning the championship.
At rounds three and four at Autodrome St-Eustache — my home track — I was able to run with last year’s CBR125R champion Stacey Nesbitt and fast up-and-comers Ryan Roche and 13-year-old Tomas Casas. I surprised the hell out of myself by discovering at St-Eustache that not only could I keep up with the young guns, but that I could also lead a race, which I did for two laps in Race 2 before settling to fourth overall at the finish.
Contrary to all historical precedents, the CMG winning streak ensued through rounds five and six at Shubenacadie, where Le Grand Fromage took the helm in my absence and put on a stellar performance, winning both races against EatSleepRide’s Alex Crookes – the only other media to make it out east.
Having missed the Shubie round, I repeated this streak for rounds seven and eight at Mt-Tremblant, a high-speed track where I was expecting to get my ass whipped, as I thought my extra poundage would be a definite disadvantage.
In Race 1 that weekend I got the lead early and stretched it out to about two seconds before pulling back a bit and getting passed by Nesbitt, Roche and Casas. I also got an early lead in Race 2, but this time the kids were running a second faster and got past without me having to back off, though I did manage to hang on with them to the finish.
Media riders were scored separately than the competitors in the series, so that our classification would not affect the points tally of the true racers in the class. However, we could certainly affect the outcome of the kids’ race by mixing it up with them, and that’s something I wanted to avoid.
There were a couple of races in which I carried enough speed that I could have probably won overall, St-Eustache being one of them and Mt-Tremblant the other (at least in Race 1).
However, I chose instead to mix it up — safely — with the top three competitors in the early laps, and then by mid-race, pull in behind them and let them duke it out for the lead while I got a front-row seat to the action. I felt it was important to let the proper winners cross the finish line first as us media hacks were only invited guests on a separate points structure.
Call me Mr. Nice Guy.
CMG had already clinched the media challenge championship at Tremblant, but there was an outside chance that Crookes, who’d scored points in every race but one, could take the number 1 plate. Had I not shown up for or failed to finish the Mosport rounds and he won both races, he could have been crowned champion.
Although I was quite confident that I could clinch the championship, I wasn’t convinced I could continue CMG’s unbroken winning streak. Mosport has a long, uphill back straight and I expected to get a thorough ass whipping there, not only by the lighter, faster kids, but also by the featherweight — and main threat — Pascal Bastien of Moto123, as well as equally weightless Kevin Duke of Motorcycle.com, who came up from the U.S. to take part.
I thought the kids would have difficulty at a track like Mosport, which boasts the highest average speed of all Canadian circuits, but these guys and girl are racers and high speed doesn’t seem to deter them.
It seems physics laws were meant to be broken and I astonishingly posted the fourth fastest qualifying time, and fastest among journos. Two seconds separated the top 10 riders — journos and racers included — making Mosport the tightest field of the season. It was going to be an epic battle in the final. And it was.
Mr Nice Guy
As I had done in some of the previous rounds, I took the lead soon after the start of Race 1, but as expected I got passed first by Nesbitt, then Casas and Sean Smith. Roche got into the mix soon after, and he was followed by Bastien, who was now posting lap times about two seconds faster than he did in qualifying.
Nesbitt and Casas took off from us, leaving Smith, Roche and I to battle it out, with Bastien sitting back, following closely and waiting for the right moment to pounce. Smith, Roche and I continuously swapped positions, often several times per lap, and often using the draft on the back straight.
When the last lap flag came out, I was tailing Roche and Smith coming on to the back straight, perfectly positioned to draft by both of them as I’d done a couple of times earlier in the race.
However this time — sticking to my principle of not mixing it up with the kids in the late stages of the race — I rolled off the throttle and tucked in behind them so they could have at it in the last three turns.
Roche was in the hunt for the championship and I wasn’t going to mess with that.
But Bastien, who was tailing just behind me saw his opportunity to make a pass and pulled up to my right. Realising this, I gassed it to try and hold him off but it was too late and he gently shoved me out of the draft of Roche and Smith.
Having already lost my momentum by rolling off the throttle to stay behind the kids, I had no choice but to file in behind him going into Turn 8.
Roche and Smith went for it and rode side-by-side trying to get ahead of each other, bumping fairings in Turns 8 and 9.
Casas finished first, followed by Nesbitt, who increased her lead on Roche, who got the better of Smith in their last-lap duo and took the third spot. Bastien took his first victory of the season in the media class, depriving CMG of a clean sweep of the series, and Duke, who was racing at Mosport for the first time, finished a very respectable third.
Regardless, my second place secured me the media riders’ championship, which was the main goal.
Then it all went CMG
Sunday morning began with a protest by one of the parents who was pissed that “the media guys are over 25, are former pros and are riding aggressively.”
There was one media guy that nearly fit that description (yours truly) – on all counts except for the aggressive riding bit. I was, however, accused of making aggressive passes during Saturday’s race when almost all passing was done safely in a straight line on the back straight, or on a couple of occasions I made passes on the far outside of Turn 2, and far away from those being passed. And when being passed by a series racer (not a media rider) I wouldn’t put up a challenge, I’d let them by.
Honda Canada developed the media challenge for several reasons. First and foremost is for the coverage. The series is in its infancy and the more people that hear about it the more interest the CBR250R series will generate. They also did it to fill in the grid, which makes for a better show. And our riding experience would also trickle down to the kids, and we always gave advice on where they needed to improve.
Nothing changed in the starting positions and I got a good start in Race 2, filing in behind Nesbitt, who got the holeshot.
As we topped the hill on the back straight on the first lap, Smith and Roche — who were riding on probation for bumping in Turns 8 and 9 in the final lap of the previous day’s race — got by me. Then Casas made a clean pass on me on the outside of Turn 8, and I’d figured at that point in the race he’d file in behind Smith and Roche and make a pass later in the race.
But he made an overly ambitious pass, attempting to get by both riders on the inside of Turn 9.
He got past Roche, but because he was carrying too much speed, ran wide at the apex and cut across the front of Smith’s bike, clipping his front tire and knocking him down.
We were in a tight formation and the next casualty was Roche, who hit Smith while he was on the ground, sending him right into my path.
With nowhere to go, I tried my best to slow down as much as possible to make the inevitable at least less catastrophic, and I collided with Smith, who was rolling in front of my bike. I hit him and was catapulted through the air, landing on my right side, smashing my right knee, hip, shoulder and helmet on the ground.
I suffered an acromioclavicular joint separation in my shoulder and some painful bruising. Smith got the worst of it however, breaking his toe, wrist and pelvis (which required a metal plate).
Since I could no longer ride, I watched the restart of the race from the sidelines. Casas took his second win of the weekend, followed by Nesbitt and Cameron Walker. Roche, who was riding a backup bike prepared by Honda Canada after his was destroyed in the crash, finished fourth. That meant that Nesbitt won her second consecutive national championship with Roche coming in second and Casas rounding out the top three.
In the media round, Bastien took his second victory of the weekend followed by Duke, and Cycle Canada‘s Neil Graham in third. Behind me in the media class championship is Crookes, who was the only media to attend every round, and Bastien got third with great results in the few rounds he attended.
Credit where credit’s due
Honda Canada has put together a fantastic race series that has everything an aspiring road racer needs to build a career. It’s fast enough to be exciting, the bikes perform flawlessly and are competitive with little preparation, and they even sound right with those slip-on Akrapovic pipes.
The series would not be possible without the help of Honda Canada’s Kim Moore, as well as Eric Vlasic, who prepped all the media bikes, worked incessantly every race weekend keeping us happy, and if that wasn’t enough, catered to the series racers, repairing race damage and changing tires.
A big thank you goes out to Honda Canada, Eric, Kim and everyone at CSBK.
Finally, I’d like to send my best wishes to Sean Smith and hope he makes a speedy recovery.