It was always going to be a hard-fought couple of races, whatever the size of the bikes.
Canada Moto Guide was invited by Kawasaki Canada to compete in the final two races of the Ninja 300 series, held this past weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. It’s a great series, following on the success of the Honda series from 2014: small bikes, near-identical in set-up, compliant and willing to rev, and with racing more indicative of riding skill and talent than power. How could we say no?
It got more interesting when Jacob Black, motorcycling editor of AutoTRADER.com, also signed up to compete. Jacob is a loud, brash Australian, who needs to be shown the superiority of Canadian racing. We were happy to rise to the challenge.
Our racer was JP Schroeder, well known to CMG readers over the years. He’s a man with a reputation for getting the job done and getting it done fast. He stowed his leathers in his trailer and made the long drive from Montreal, Canada’s cultural capital. Jacob threw his leathers in the back of some car and wimped his way up from downtown Toronto, armpit of the nation. They met at practice on Friday and the rest is history. – Ed.
“It really teaches you,” said Brad Goodbody, Canadian Kawasaki’s manager of marketing, who’s a keen amateur racer himself. “I think you learn a lot more on the track on a smaller displacement bike than you would on a larger one, because you really get to learn how to continue your corner speed, how to maximise your braking, how to trail brake. It’s all about smoothness and good lines, not power.”
These words would come back to bite him, but he seemed happy enough on Friday. He was in a good mood: there were 14 riders on the grid, including himself.
The grids have been small all year because the series was late getting off the ground, but Kawasaki’s made a commitment to 2017 and there are still “a handful” of bikes available to buy. They’re race-prepared and cost $7,500 each, and at the end of the season, Kawasaki will provide all the hardware needed to make them street legal.
“Really, all you have to pay for is your entry fees, race gas, and probably a couple of sets of tires,” says Goodbody. Those add up, of course, and you also need clothing and a trailer, but it’s still perhaps the least expensive introduction to serious racing you can find in Canada.
And the racing was serious, too. In Friday practice, the fastest Ninja 300 riders were clocking lap times of 1.43 and 1.44 – compare that to the 1.21s of the superbikes. CMG’s JP was running around 1.48. Jacob Black was a good 10 seconds a lap slower than JP, and was proud that he touched down his left knee-slider. It looked like it might be no contest at all, but the weekend was young.
The next day was stinking hot, and one qualifying session in the morning would determine grid placement for both the Saturday and Sunday races. JP did some tweaking with the bike, adjusting the suspension for a firmer ride. He owns a Honda CBR250R that gives him plenty of practice and, as editor, I felt confident for CMG’s victory. If you follow Game of Thrones, then I felt like Cirsei with Ser Gregor Clegane in her pocket, and I chose violence. If you don’t follow Game of Thrones, then you should. Don’t let the incest deter you.
In qualifying, JP was a solid sixth place and Jacob Black clawed his way up to mid-pack. Clearly, he’d been watching our guy, learning his moves, and finally discovering the benefits of smooth lines. Maybe he really was learning quickly from the little bike.
Then in the race, when JP came sixth and Black came 10th, the contest heated up. Black clocked a time of 1.465 and JP faded a little in the heat – the young whippersnapper was pulling ahead.
“I feel happy, mate,” he said, with Australian eloquence. “I’ve wiped eight seconds off in four sessions in my first ever time at Mosport. Your ringer’s still way faster than me, and I couldn’t care less. That was about as much fun as I’ve ever had on a motorbike. I’m happy as a pig in shit.”
Nobody was as happy as the race winner, 16-year-old Jared Walker of Oakville. “I just had the right pace, put my head down and kept going,” he said. Sounds easy really.
JP was hoping for rain on Sunday because he likes rain. He says he’s fast in rain. He’s welcome to it, but as long as he didn’t disgrace CMG, it could pour a monsoon for all we cared. But it didn’t. The weather was cooler, a little breezy, and wonderful. Everyone was in a good mood. Practice went well, and another rider joined the grid, pro racer Bodhi Edie, whose superbike was damaged the previous day. This would step it up a notch!
The little bikes roared off the grid and hurled themselves through the track’s challenging corners. Walker stayed at or near the front. JP headed the second pack and all was going well until four laps in, when Edie and Kawasaki’s Goodbody bumped into each other on corner 3 – Quebec Corner. Oops. Both went down. Edie got back up and carried on but Goodbody hit the hay bales hard. He limped off the track, sore and with a suspected broken hand.
The racing heated up. Lap after lap went by and Black actually had JP in his sights. Let him tell what happened:
“I was faster than all those guys ahead of me through Turn 9, I knew that, so I kept that speed and I just thought I’d have a proper crack through Turn 10. But I got greedy with the throttle, ran wide and then I was on the grass. I’d have been fine except I hit the hay bale…”
He was right behind JP at the time, as this photo proves. Many thanks to race winner Jared Walker’s mom, Kimi, who just happened to have her camera pointed in the right direction at the right time.
Black broke his hand and cut his ankle, bad enough to need three stitches: the footpeg pierced his boot. He went to Bowmanville hospital for a checkup before heading home. Brad Goodbody went home with a bandaged hand, too. And Jared Walker took home another first-place trophy.
“I pretty much pinned sixth gear the whole track, ” he said. “I just played with the draft all the way around and it all worked out. ”
And JP? He stowed his leathers in the trailer, packed away his espresso machine, returned the bike to Canadian Kawasaki and headed home to Montreal, secure in knowing he’d ridden hard and fast and done Canada Moto Guide proud. As we always knew he would. He’ll tell us about the experience in his own words later this week – come back to hear about it first hand.
This story has been fixed to correct that Brad Goodbody and Bodhi Edie had their spill at Corner 3. Duh – we should know, we were there taking the pictures. And Jacob Black wrote in to whinge that he turned a 1.46 lap time. Many thanks to Canadian Kawasaki for the use of the Ninja 300, which we did not damage, unlike some. And thanks too to everyone at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, which really is now a world-class track. And to Kimi Walker, whose photo tells a thousand words.