Photos by Rob MacLennan, Samantha Dye, Mike Rice, and Mark Richardson
The past two years, I’ve gone to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The past two years, I’ve left CTMP and gone straight to the hospital. I had a crash-fest in my first Canadian Superbike full season last year, and I spent much of this year scuppering my chances on a highly competitive bike with silly rookie errors. To say I had a lot to prove on this, my third visit to the track, is a dramatic understatement.
To say I was hungry for a result? Utterly inadequate.
So when I found myself in the draft of champion-elect Jake LeClair, and soon after found myself in the lead of a national series race, the CSBK Amateur Lightweight Production race, I will admit I got emotional inside my helmet. And in a rare moment of composure, managed to maintain the lead through Turns 8, 9, and 10, and down the front straight. I officially led that race on twice across the line, and in reality, led it multiple times more than that.
Our battle group made more passes in that race than I can count. It was thrilling, and I for once was in the thick of not just a fight, but a fight for the lead. The end result of that race wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t crash, but I did finish just outside the top five. But more on that in a bit.
The final CSBK round of the season meant the final shootout for our Lightweight Sportbike class for the year, but it also meant an accompanying invitational race. That race allowed in pro riders, and also allowed us to uncork the full horsepower from the three of us on Kawasaki Ninja 400s. R3s were able to run underweight, and with full horsepower too. So out came the restrictor plates.
My first session saw me doing 1m42s laps. A full two seconds faster than last year on my Ninja 300. But Cameron Walker, also on an unrestricted Ninja 400, was doing 1m40s. In the second session, I pulled my finger out and used his draft to record my own 1m40s lap. I was on the pace, and finished the session second-fastest. The weekend had started well.
Qualifying for both the CSBK Amateur Lightweight Sportbike class and the Bickle Racing Lightweight Super Sport Invitational was on Saturday morning, less than an hour apart. That meant one hour to remove my restrictor plates and go out for the national qualifying session. I did a 1m40 lap and scored second on the grid for the open race, behind Cameron Walker. The other Ninja 400 of Connor Campbell would start last after crashing out in qualifying.
In the CSBK class, I could only manage eighth fastest on my restricted bike. I was doing 1m43s, the other restricted 400s doing 1m42s.
And then things got good.
My plates removed and horsepower unleashed, I had a bitter brawl with Keegan Gaudet and Gary McKinnon for second. Unbeknownst to me, Connor Campbell had gone from last to the back of our pack, and on the final lap, right when I thought I was safe, blew around the outside of me at Turn 8 to snatch second. I would have been upset, but third meant my first podium, a goal I’ve set since day one, finally fulfilled.
If I’m honest, the relief and excitement of hitting that goal was a factor in my performance in the next race, the first of the CSBK National series races. I was sluggish off the line and dropped from seventh to 10th. It took me a while to climb back up to the front of our group, while the five bikes of Jake LeClair, Alex Berthiaume, Jason Colangelo, Connor Campbell, and Keegan Gaudet battled for the win. Jake LeClair crashed, gifting Gaudet his first ever victory, while I had an eventful but unfulfilling battle and wound up eighth.
I couldn’t have cared less. The podium awaited. My daughter got to see her dad spray champagne for the first time ever, and even though Connor and Cameron, knowing it was my first time, got the jump on me with the champagne and left me a sodden mess, nothing could wipe the smile from my face.
Except Something Did
I had a goal for Sunday practice: get my bike up amongst Campbell and Walker and try to drop into the 1m39s bracket they’d hit on Saturday. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, not content with sending me to hospital twice already, decided to throw one more curveball at me. And as I exited turn five and opened up the throttle for the run down the main straight, my bike stopped running.
It dropped to one cylinder, and I limped back into the pits. Less than two hours until the second Bickle Invitational race, I thought my weekend was done. The sudden loss of a cylinder under power had me thinking I’d lost a valve stem, and I was distraught.
Larry, from Niagara Race Crafters, immediately came to my pit, and we worked feverishly to diagnose the problem, chasing it to the left-hand coil pack in my engine.
Steve LeClair, Jake LeClair’s dad and owner of Oshawa Cycle Salvage, drove home to pull a coil out of a Ninja 400 he had in his shop, saving my weekend. I missed the second Bickle Race, but I would make the national.
Jacob Finally Goes Full Send
It’s one thing to talk about going full send, another entirely to do it. I was livid. Frustrated, disappointed, gutted. All I had wanted was one more crack at a podium chance, and now I felt like it was gone. I was starting the national race from ninth, and with my bike down to the same horsepower limits as the rest of the field, felt like my competitive advantage was lost.
But I wasn’t about to give up that easily.
I’d learned a lot this season. I learned not to bail out of the throttle in Turn 1 traffic. I learned not to hesitate when making passes, and not to let a chance to overtake go by. I applied those lessons to lap one.
The lights went out and for the first time, I went full send. I was three-wide into Turn 1, and four-wide into Turn 2; at one point, I dropped a spot or two. Matt Simpson hit Ben LeClair and they went wide, I cut down under them and went by. Now I was eighth.
I rode underneath someone into Turn 3 and then around the outside of another in Turn 4: Sixth.
Down the back straight I drafted past two more riders: Fourth.
In Turn 10, Keegan Gaudet crashed out of the lead: Third.
On lap two, someone passed me on the inside of three: Fourth again.
On the back straight, I drafted by that rider, then the two LeClair brothers: First.
I led through Turns 8, 9 and 10. I got passed again in 3, I passed that rider back. I shuffled back and forth in a pack of five riders until lap six.
Then, my race began to fall apart. Another rider baulked me after inexplicably sitting up to wave the front four through, and I fell off the draft. In my determination to get back onto the group, I blew Turn 5 and ran wide; that let Johann Plancque catch up, and on the final lap, he drafted by to claim fifth.
I still don’t know how I felt. On one hand, I was sixth, and devastated to be there. On the other, I had led a national race for the first time in my life.
My wife, Stephanie, took my gloves and helmet. I told her I was upset with sixth, “You did awesome!” cried my daughter, Maddie, and her friend Lily in unison. Aaron Burns from 613 Motorsport threw his arms around me: “That was brilliant! The race is more than just the result, don’t be like that”.
Mostly, I feel gratitude. To autoTRADER.ca and CMG for getting behind me, for Beckner Trailers who helped me get to the track each round, and for all the people who helped me this year: Larry from NRC, Evans Racing, Burns Racing, Campbell Racing, 3 Walker Racing, 613 Motorsport, Steve LeClair, and Flexi-Glass.
The fact is, I still have a way to go to get where I want to be. The other fact is: I’ve come a long, long way already.
I went from crash-happy, injury-laden, laughing stock to mid-pack runner. And from mid-pack runner to genuine contender.
I feel like I’ve proven myself. I feel redeemed.
I feel ready for next season.