Five Key Take-Aways from Grand Bend

YOUNG PROVES PACE

“I really enjoyed the event, it was good for us overall.  It’s not that I’m not happy – but sure, it could have ended better.”  So said Ben Young following his strongest race so far in his two year plus two races-old Mopar CSBK Superbike career.  Young led most of the last lap but wound up second, .171 of a second behind winner Jordan Szoke.

Young did win the delayed Dalton Timmis Insurance SuperPole session, and his 100% Eyewear Award, aboard his Scot Build/ACF-50 backed BMW S1000RR.   Over the weekend at Grand Bend, Young fought for top time throughout each Feature class session with reigning Champ Szoke’s Mopar Express Lane/Motovan BMW.  The race was no different.

Szoke led early, but Young was right on his tail, Samuel Trepanier making it a three BMW fight for first aboard his Neuroperforma/T2 design supported superbike.  Eventually Trepanier would lose the leading pair in late race traffic, as Young made the push for his first career Feature victory. 

“I was content to sit behind Jordan initially, I was willing to wait,” explained Young.  “I could see the lappers up ahead when we were in turns two and three, I could look across the track, but there was no way to know when and where we would catch them.

“With that situation,” explains Young of the battle for the lead encountering traffic in the final section of the track, entering the Carousel, “the only way I was going to win was to block Jordan, or bump the lappers.  It’s better to be safe, and get to the finish, get those points. I didn’t think we would get traffic where we did, really it was the worst spot.”

Young credits his crew of long time tuners Willy Vass of Alberta and Hindle’s Scott Cartier, as well as new recruit American Steve Weir, for working on the details of set-up that have allowed the team to challenge the Szoke dynasty. 

“We changed a lot on the bike between Shannonville and Grand Bend, we worked on the geometry and that was a massive help,” explains Young. “But we’ll have to change again for St-Eustache, it’s a completely different track from S.M.P. or Grand Bend.”

“Everyone knows how strong Jordan is at St-Eustache, so we will need to come up with a plan to handle that!  Every track has its quirks, and I like them all really, just down to figuring things out.”  

Young also suggests that his improved pace has changed his own view of his status within the Mopar CSBK Championship.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been in a position where I knew we could win,” says the veteran of the USGPRU, British Nationals and MotoAmerica. “Knowing that over the whole weekend, going in, is a big help mentally.  I felt like that from the get-go, being on the pace through practice and qualifying, and the delay to Sunday actually helped us with the data, we got a little more out of the BMW before the Dalton Timmins Insurance SuperPole.

“I’ve never been in that situation at this high a level, it’s different, and now we also have the Championship to think of – there is a lot going on.”

“I know how important every point is, and with the crash out of the lead last year at Grand Bend, that was it, our whole season really.  Then you think of the next race a year ago, Jordan had an engine let go on his cool-down lap, and that could have been his whole season.

“You need to be lucky,” considers Young, a close second (12 points behind Szoke) in the 2018 Superbike points standings. “it can be anything, something small, it could be a lapper.  Hopefully, this season, it isn’t a mistake that does it, it’s just down to straight racing.”  

SZOKE DOES THE MATH

Not that long ago, it seemed like B.C.’s Steve Crevier, winner of six CSBK Superbike titles for Yamaha, Kawasaki and Honda, would be the most successful racer ever in Canadian history.  However, Szoke has since pushed into unknown territory, winning regularly since his first Superbike National crown back in 1998 on a reclaimed Kawasaki.

(Teammates once, at Honda with the new RC51 twin back in 2000, rising star Szoke took most of the victories, but a back-from-the-USA Crevier earned the Championship.)

Szoke now has 67 career victories in Pro Superbike National events in Canada. His first win came almost exactly twenty years ago, in the rain at the now-defunct Race City Speedway in Calgary, Alberta.

Szoke is looking for his 13th career overall number one National Championship this season, and his victory at Grand Bend’s second National means he has not been defeated in one full season.  He is also seeking his fourth consecutive National crown, and perhaps even a fourth career perfect season.

Since Szoke didn’t beat Bodhi Edie’s Yamaha at Grand Bend in the Red Flag interrupted 2017 track debut, his win this season marked his first triumph on “Ontario’s West Coast.”  Now, Szoke can again say that he has won at every venue on the Schedule.

Now Szoke heads for one of his best venues – Szoke has lost only once at St-Eustache since the series returned to the suburban Montreal venue in 2011 – to Brett McCormick in that first race back. So the National number one is riding a seven-race win streak at “Twin Peaks,” if you include Double Headers.   

Szoke didn’t expect to race his brand new BeeMm at Grand Bend, and even after Qualifying, he wasn’t sure of some key decisions, including bike choice!  With the top riders all aboard the S1000RR, the smallest details can make the difference, and Szoke continues to focus on electronics with the set-up on his series leading bike(s).

SUPERBIKE DEVELOPMENTS

Early in the Grand Bend Superbike Feature race, fourth place belonged to the distinctive green and silver Dewildt/Nexo Honda CBR1000RR of Steven Nickerson.  The 23-year-old, a front runner in the local SOAR series in his fourth career Superbike start, was the top non-BMW, an honour typically expected to go to Trevor Daley and his One Speed/Rockstar Kawasaki ZX-10R Ninja.

However, Nickerson’s run of bad luck continued, a mid-race crash eliminating him from a likely top placing.  At the 2018 Shannonville opener, he looked fast in practice, but hurt his hand and had to withdraw.  Previously, Nickerson had earned eighth in his Pro Superbike debut a year earlier at the first-ever Grand Bend National.

Nickerson turned the fifth fastest lap of the race at 1:04.443, just behind fourth best time of Daley at 1:04.269.  Daley again had a poor start, and then battled for fourth late in the race with the Royal Distributing/Bell BMW of Michael Leon.  Leon earned fourth with Daley less that .2 of a second back in fifth, and both will expect to do slightly better at St-Eustache.

Mitch Card continues to improve in his first serious season aboard his YZF-R1, netting a career-best sixth, just edging Jeff Williams (seventh) at the finish.  Williams showed good pace on his BMW, and development work at the RACE SuperSeries Regional round two at Shannonville June 17 should help “Jammin’ Jeff” find more pace for the remaining five National races.     

CARD CATCHES UP

Last season, the Liqui Moly Pro Sport Bike National Championship turned into the “Tomas and Mitch Show,” as Tomas Casas and Mitch Card were usually inches apart at the front of the pack, occasionally joined by some special guests.  This trend looks set to continue in 2018.

Card earned his first career Grand Bend victory in the middleweight class at Grand Bend, aboard his regular Fast Company/Blue Streak Yamaha YZF-R6.  He worked his way past the Parts Canada/Peterborough Cycle R6 of Casas, and moved to first when hard-luck David MacKay crashed out of the lead on his Kawasaki mid-race. Reigning Champ and opening round victor Casas wound up second, four seconds back, and wasn’t that interested in tackling Card.

Last season, local fast guy Will Hornblower missed the Grand Bend race, but in 2018 he was up front in each session, and viewed as a likely winner going into the final.  Early in the race, Hornblower paced the leading trio, and looked ready to pounce.  Instead, the race went the other way:  Hornblower fell into the clutches of Dylan Bauer, who had dispatched the Kawasaki of eventual fifth finisher Sebastien Tremblay.

Bauer ended up an impressive third, his first career Pro National podium, with his R6.  Hornblower, like McKay overdue to win a National, netted fourth, while Tremblay will no doubt be ready to show “the Shaker’s” pace at home at St-Eustache for the next round, July 1.

LECLAIR CONTINUES STREAK

There was hope amongst the Amateur Lightweight Sport Bike competitors heading into Grand Bend, since series leader Jake LeClair does most of his testing at Shannonville – might he be vulnerable at Grand Bend?  While LeClair wasn’t as far ahead at Grand Bend as he had been at the opener, he remains unbeaten on his Yamaha R3 after four of the ten scheduled races.

Normally, the LTWT racers have a National on Saturday and one on Sunday, but weather issues meant that they competed in overcast conditions twice on Sunday.  In the noon-time opener, LeClair set the fastest lap at 1:12.9, and won by 2.5 seconds from the R3 of Alex Berthiaume, Kawasaki 300 racer Ryan White third from the similar Ninja of Johann Plancque.  Cycle Canada’s Paul Penzo was fifth on the Blu Cru Yamaha, just ahead of famously-fast-female Toni Sharpless on another R3.

Later in the afternoon, LeClair once again took control from the start, getting down to a best lap time of 1:12.25 mid-race to take the win by 2.4 seconds from Berthiaume.  White was again third, followed by Plancque, Penzo and the younger LeClair brother, 15-year-old Ben.

It is expected that we will see some new French-Canadian ASM racers in LTWT at St-Eustache, QC, for National races five and six, and then the typically strong local LTWT crew at Atlantic Motorsport Park will try to unseat LeClair July 21 and 22.  It won’t be easy to beat the teen-aged former motocrosser from Blackstock, ON, living right next door to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.