The first half of the Mopar Canadian Superbike Championship season finale weekend certainly lived up to the hype on Saturday, as fan-favourite Ben Young scored his first career Mopar Pro Superbike victory in a thrilling day Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
Young started from pole position aboard his Barrie BMW Scot-Build S1000RR but quickly lost the lead to three-time defending champion Jordan Szoke, who is chasing his record 13th title in 2018. However, the lead was short-lived, as a group of Young, Szoke, Samuel Trepanier, and Kenny Riedmann began to trade places early on.
The fight became smaller when the St. Isidore, QC native of Trepanier crashed out on lap two, though things only got more exciting without the Blysk Racing BMW rider, as Szoke and his Mopar Express Lane BMW settled in to third behind a thrilling fight between Young and Riedmann.
The latter, sporting a Sturgess Cycle/Riedmann Management Kawasaki ZX-10R Ninja, had appeared to be in line for his first career Pro Superbike victory in just his first race since coming out of retirement, but ultimately fell off the pace of Young in the dying laps and was forced to hold off Szoke in the battle for second-place.
The end result was a much-deserved victory for Young, who had finished as the runner-up to Szoke in all but one race this season entering the finale.
“It feels so awesome, I’m so happy. It’s just amazing,” said an exhausted Young. “I got a good start and when I got in the lead I wanted to see if I could break things up a bit, but they all stayed really close and I knew it was going to be tough.”
The Collingwood, ON native said the victory felt even better following his battle with long-time friend and fellow front-runner Riedmann.
“I saw Kenny get in front of me and I thought ‘this is awesome!’” he said. “We had some really good battles over the years, so it was just like old times out there.”
As for Riedmann, it was an emotional result for the Belfountain, ON native, as he had been among Szoke’s biggest rivals for a number of years but repeatedly fell just short in their battles. Though he is still chasing his first career victory in the class, the former three-time Pro Sport Bike champion was in good spirits on the podium.
“I’m actually kind of bummed, because I spent all these years trying to beat Jordan and I finally do, and then Ben beats me!” he laughed. “Hats off to Ben though on his first win, now I just need to come back here tomorrow and get mine.”
The most surprising result of the race may have been Szoke in third, which was the lowest he has finished in a race he started since the season opener in 2011.
“They were really fast out there today, and they have been all season, but I was sort of just along for the ride,” said Szoke, who had been battling rare mechanical issues earlier in the weekend. “Ben actually helped me with a motor, which is crazy coming from a competitor, and the bike setup was perfect. But congrats to Ben, he’s been working hard all year and he’s earned it.”
The 12-time champion ultimately fell just a handful of points shy of clinching the title, something he will hope to do with a conservative result on Sunday.
“I was actually hoping Kenny could win so it would help us get the championship, but it’s awesome to see Ben do it too,” he said. “Unfortunately, it just means we have to play it safe and maybe cruise around to get the title tomorrow.”
Though all eyes were on the battle up front, it was still a fun-filled race inside the top-ten, with OneSpeed Chop Shop Kawasaki rider Trevor Daley securing fourth ahead of Royal Distributing BMW veteran Michael Leon.
The top rookie on the day was Langden, AB’s Ryan Boddy, who took an impressive 11th place finish in his first appearance of the season aboard his Kawasaki.
Though Casas was already leading entering the final lap, the Parts Canada Yamaha YZF-R6 rider had endured a race-long fight with Ripley, ON rival Mitch Card and fellow front-runners Jacob Shaw-O’Leary and Sebastien Tremblay.
However, when Casas exited the Mario Andretti Straightaway for the final time, he was alone out front, as Fast Company Yamaha youngster Card and Pro Cycle Honda CBR600RR teenager Shaw-O’Leary (Falmouth, NS) were involved in separate crashes in turn five.
Though Tremblay was also involved in the incident, the Laval, QC native was able to pick up his DB Moto Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja machine and finish in fourth. Raffa Racing Honda veteran Louie Raffa was the biggest beneficiary of the incident in second, while Mack Attack Kawasaki youngster David MacKay completed the podium in third.
“Oh man, that was one of the closest races I’ve ever had! It was such an awesome race,” said Casas. “I figured I would wait until the last few laps to make my pass, but unfortunately they all went down behind me. It’s been a while since I won here and it’s my home track, so I was really hungry for it. It feels great.”
Asked if he knew what had happened in turn five, Casas said he was completely unaware there was even an incident until he crossed the finish line.
“I came out of turn ten and figured they were right behind me, but when I won I looked back and was like ‘where is everybody’” said the two-time champion. “I had no idea what happened, but I’m glad everyone is okay.”
Although third-place finisher MacKay was slightly behind the pace at the time of the crash, he was able to capitalize on the opportunity and secure his second podium of the season.
“I came out of turn four and there were bikes everywhere, I just tried to avoid it all. Luckily everyone’s okay,” said MacKay.
Another class which seemed destined to have its title handed out on Saturday was the Amateur Lightweight Sport Bike division, but a shocking crash from points leader Jake LeClair opened the door slightly for dramatics on Sunday.
LeClair, who had finished on the podium in every race this season with six victories, high-sided his Yamaha YZF-R3 in the final corner near the end of the race, which allowed Ellerslie, PEI phenom Keegan Gaudet to score his first ever National victory in his first ever National race aboard a Pro Cycle Honda CBR500R.
It was a great day to be Mirabel, QC native Luc LaBranche, who inched closer to his quest for a double-championship in the Amateur ranks.
The Yamaha rider was able to mount a late charge and win the Magneti Marelli Amateur Superbike race aboard his YZF-R1, taking a somewhat comfortable lead into the final race of the season on Sunday.
However, his chances at a Parts Canada Amateur Sport Bike title also improved, as 16-year old Verdun, QC native and points leader Nicolas Meunier fell victim to a jump-start penalty and was relegated to third aboard his Kawasaki ZX-6R.
That race was officially won by Issoudun, QC’s Danny Cayer aboard his Yamaha, while LaBranche took a much-needed second-place aboard his YZF-R6.
The Parts Canada Hard Charger Award winner of the day was Toronto, ON’s Rob Waddell, who showed the biggest improvement from qualifying to the race aboard his Triumph Daytona 675.
Full race results from Saturday, as well as the schedule for the season’s final day of racing on Sunday, can be found on the series’ official website at www.csbk.ca.