Well, so much for the end of an era.
If the rest of the Parts Canada Superbike Championship field thought that Jordan Szoke’s era of dominance was coming to an end, surely the result of the season’s first race at Circuit ICAR in Mirabel, Quebec put those thoughts to rest.
The six-time champion, and the winner of the last four consecutive titles, began his second stint on Honda-powered machinery with a close victory over talented teenager Jodi Christie (Jodi Christie Racing/ Durham Honda).
Starting from the pole, the 31-year-old Szoke led all 18 laps of the race around the 2.8 kilometre circuit on his Honda CBR1000RR to clinch his 30th career win, the most in Canadian Superbike history. The 17-year-old Christie stayed on Szoke’s rear wheel throughout the race on his Honda CBR600RR, but couldn’t overtake the defending champ. Szoke hung on to win by a margin of 0.668 seconds.
Former factory Yamaha rider Kevin Lacombe, now competing with his privateer Suzuki team (Lacombe Racing Suzuki) finished third on a GSX-1000R.
Despite getting the better of his rivals this time, Szoke acknowledged the increasing difficulty of trying to fend off so many challengers that seem to get a little closer to him with each passing year.
“I get older and I keep getting these younger and younger guys chasing me,” Szoke said after the race. He leaves ICAR with a perfect 56 points thanks to the pole position, most laps lead and the victory. “It’s a long race and I thought I might be able to break away, but Jodi stuck right there.”
Christie got the better of Szoke off the start and held the lead briefly, but the wily veteran moved back in front before the end of the first lap and would stay for the remainder of the race.
Christie, of Keene, Ontario, seemed content with his runner-up finish and for being able to run with Szoke for an entire race. Still, his post-race statement contained a hint of regret that he was unable to get past Szoke.
“I was trying really hard and I thought I could make a move on the last lap but I messed up the chicane. I knew it was doable and I tried hard to stick behind him. I have to be satisfied with my weekend,” he said.
If there was ever a time when Christie and the rest of the field could legitimately believe the champ was vulnerable, this might be the year.
During the off-season Szoke’s four-year association with Canadian Kawasaki Motors came to an end after the manufacturer elected to outsource the operation of the road racing program in order to cut costs.
Despite his status as the reigning champion, Szoke wasn’t able to work out a new deal with Kawasaki. A parting of ways came in January with the announcement that Kawasaki had officially put its program in the hands of its long-time engine builder Mike Crompton and his Competition Systems Kawasaki Race Team. Alex Welsh, Szoke’s teammate, was named as the team’s sole rider.
Szoke’s plans weren’t revealed immediately, but in March he announced that he would defend both of his titles (he’s also won the past four Pro Sport Bike championships), with his on self-funded team, Waznie Racing/ Ciclo Werks / Dewildt Honda, partnering with Fast Company’s Scott Miller, the same tuner he had with Honda in 2004-05.
While Honda will offer some assistance to the team via parts discounts and contingency funding, Szoke is writing the biggest cheque to support his team. Sources have indicated to PRN that he could end up putting as much as $250,000 of his own money into the outfit this season.
In light of such a sizeable investment, no wonder he seemed so happy (and relieved) post-race.
“This takes a lot of weight off us,” he said. “It’s a real good start for the championship, because Kevin and the rest of the guys are only going to get faster as the year goes on.”
The opening round may have not been a good one for the favourites, aside from Szoke, but it certainly featured some positive results for smaller privateer teams. In addition to sweeping the top three positions, veteran Superbike racer Frank Trombino finished fourth on his ProStar Motorsports / Sturgess Cycle Honda CBR1000RR, to give Honda three of the top four positions.
As for the series only full factory effort, BMW Motorrad could do no better than fifth and sixth for its two factory riders Michael Ferreira and two-time Superbike champion Francis Martin, both riding the new S1000RR.
Despite starting the race from the third and sixth positions respectively, neither Martin nor Ferreira were able to stay up front for the entire race. Just past the race’s midpoint, Martin began to encounter tire wear that slowed him down enough so that Trombino and Ferreira were able to get by.
While finishing sixth has to be viewed as a disappointment for a rider of Martin’s stature, fifth place is certainly a respectable result for Ferreira in his first Superbike race. He has spent the past several years competing for BMW in the former Canadian Thunder and Sport Bike classes.
Further down the finishing order at Mirabel was Welsh’s Kawasaki ZX-10R. Focusing solely on the Superbike class this year, Welsh is the primary beneficiary of Szoke’s departure. Although, it is not technically a factory effort, Welsh’s Competition Systems Kawasaki Race Team is well-funded and carries with it several key personnel responsible for Szoke’s four Superbike and Sport Bike titles from 2006-09, including Crompton.
With Kawasaki and Parts Canada sponsoring the effort, the spotlight on Welsh is bound to get hotter as the expectation for top results increases. At Mirabel, he qualified (8th) and finished (7th) mid-pack, results that given the team’s pedigree and resources have to be viewed as somewhat disappointing.
Even though a champion is not crowned after one event, Szoke heads to Race City in Calgary with a 56-43 lead over Christie.
One of the hallmarks of his title runs has been the ability to build an early lead and force others to play catch-up – something they haven’t been able to do over the past four seasons. In a season with only seven rounds, an early lead can be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.
While it’s far too early to declare Szoke the first winner of five straight titles in Canadian Superbike history, his quest sure has gotten off to a flying start.