The Liqui Moly Pro Sport Bike National Championship reached mid point in their tour at the fourth round of the 2023 Bridgestone CSBK Series at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last weekend. Friday featured a make-up race for the washed out round from last month at Atlantic Motorsport Park, while Saturday and Sunday featured the typical for “old Mosport” double header format.
2023 was bound to be a transitional season for the “600 class,” as it evolves from its long-time middleweight roots to a version of the “generation two” guidelines established by the FIM and adopted by MotoAmerica south of the border. Of course, the world body’s rules involve costly mandatory electronics, so the Canuck version would rely on the more typical weight and horsepower restrictions – a format established in Canada during the mid-1990s.
At issue is the fact that the long-time focus of this category, Japanese street bikes with 600 cc in-line four-cylinder engines, are gradually fading away from sales availability. The class was built in the mid-1980s, when a variety of street bikes evolved into the bedrock of modern racing: GSX-Rs, CBRs, ZX-Rs, FZRs – we all remember our favorite selection of specific “R” models.
The most successful in terms of sales was probably Hondas family of CBR600 super sportsters, a line that no longer exists due to reduced sales and strict emission guidelines in Europe. The Yamaha YZF-R6 is available in street guise but only as a homologation special – brought into select countries so this machine can be approved for competition.
Mostly unchanged since the adoption of the electronic mandatory fly-by-wire throttle system in 2006, the Yamaha is considered the first generation “index” model by the FIM. So, machines that will become eligible for World middleweight competition must fall into line with the performance of a “built” World SuperSport R6 racer – with around 140 horsepower.
In Canada, the class is restricted to 125 horsepower, and that hasn’t changed in a decade – and likely won’t soon, either. When bikes such as the Ducati 955 v-twin Panigale R and Suzuki’s long-serving GSX-R750 are moved into various versions of SuperSport and Sport Bike, as happened in 2023, these new additions must meet the guidelines established for existing machines long-eligible for the class.
While an entry that put out 125 horsepower on the official series Dynojet Dyno might not be intimidating, the reality is these bigger displacement bikes have several advantages, starting with durability due to their less-built, lightly stressed engines. As well, there are no restrictions on torque output, and that can make for a much more rideable bike in a class that typically lacks on midrange.
Amid all this discussion and suspicion, especially on the part of established Yamaha pilots, it is very important to mention Kawasaki and their long serving, steadily developed ZX-6R Ninja. This bike is very much a work in progress, and an updated version will be available in 2024.
On Friday afternoon at CTMP, the current generation of Ninja was doing just fine, regardless of rules. Alberta’s John Laing, a fast-rising western star who joined the series this season, earned his first win, holding of a strong field of riders who knew the venue well – and this was Laing’s first ever career start at “old Mosport.”
In a race where front runners Matt Simpson (Yam), David McKay (Kaw) and Sebastien Tremblay (Suz) all fell in the rain, the podium opened for Ninja racers Connor Campbell and Alex Michel. Winner in the wet Shannonville opener, Kubota backed Campbell took it easy in the slippery conditions and then made an almost well-judged charge, coming up inches short of Laing on the run to the line. Rookie Pro Michel also made sound choices on his way to his first Pro Podium in third.
Laing’s ambition last winter was to head east for the summer and test himself against Canada’s best, a task many have tried, and most have eventually wished they hadn’t. With the help of Willy and Nadine Vass, also Alberta based and part of Ben Young’s No. 1 BMW staff, Laing cooked up a plan that seemed realistic – and now sits an incredible third overall in the national points with a Pro national victory to his credit.
On Saturday at CTMP, it was warm and windy, and Elliot Vieira dominated a Liqui Moly Pro Sport Bike round at Mosport for the second year in a row. Last year, it was on a well-travelled Yamaha, but now he leads the charge for “Gen II’ with a Ducati. This was the first victory for a second-generation rules entry, while Simpson (Yam) climbed to second after a great battle with points leader McKay, the Snow City Kawasaki pilot holding onto his series lead with a conservative third.
On Sunday, Seb Tremblay literally bounced back from Friday’s fall and a Saturday ruined by an electronic issue (blown Rectifier – remember those?). Under intense pressure from the powerful Ducati of Vieira, “the Shaker” was perfect in the first portion of each and every lap, enough to keep the Panigale just behind up the long “Mario Andretti” back straight.
Second overall Vieira gave victor Tremblay full respect on the podium, as McKay enjoyed his second consecutive third position, holding off ever-improving rookie Pro Nathan Playford (Duc), Simpson and Laing.
So far this season, McKay has two wins at home at Grand Bend, with single victories going to Campbell and Laing in the rain, and dry victors Vieira, former class Champ Tremblay and Brad Macrae (Yam). Defiantly a contender on pace, Macrae suffered engine problems with his YZF-R6 at CTMP and couldn’t start either race after falling Friday in the wet.
Macrae won on a rare dry Sunday at the Shannonville opener, earning his first Pro success on the perimeter Pro track. Now the series heads for the big 15 turn track for the final national in September, a venue not used for a national round since 2006. MacKay leads Simpson in the championship chase by just 16 points, and with a good chance of others getting into the middle of their fight, it should be nonstop entertainment for the last two middleweight races of 2023.
- From Colin Fraser