SZOKE AIMS TO REGAIN WINNING WAYS
TORONTO, Ont. (June 21) - Four-time defending Parts Canada Superbike Champion Jordan Szoke left Calgary's Race City Motorsport Park with a bitter taste in his mouth last year. This time around he will be hoping for something a little sweeter.
After controlling the 2009 Superbike feature race from the head of the field the 31-year-old from Brantford, Ont. was stunned by a dramatic last lap pass by Brett McCormick, who snatched the victory from Szoke.
Szoke comes into this weekend's event determined to re-establish his mastery of the 3.2km (2.0-mile) 11-turn Race City circuit, the scene of his first ever Canadian Superbike win in 1998 and a venue where he has eight victories, more than any other racer since the national tour first ran in Calgary in 1987.
"I want to redeem myself this year," says Szoke. "I feel like this is my track. Last year, I was more mad at myself than anything. I felt like we were a powerhouse that weekend. I had a bit of a lead and then the lapped traffic screwed me up and Brett caught me. Sure, it was a tight pass by him but I left him a little bit of room."
While last year Szoke came to Calgary trailing McCormick in the Parts Canada Superbike point standings, this time around momentum is definitely on his side.
After four years racing Kawasakis he is now aboard Honda equipment, racing a CBR1000RR for his own Waznie Racing / BMC Ciclo Werks / DeWildt Honda team. But the change in brands and the pressures of running his own race team didn't seem to affect Szoke in the season opener at Circuit ICAR, near Montreal May 28-30. He qualified on pole and led every lap to score his record-extending 30th national Superbike race win.
"It was exciting to have such a successful start to the season," Szoke admits. "Mirabel [ICAR] is not really the sort of track I expected our bikes to like, but the Honda was so good there. Now coming to Calgary and then Mosport [International Raceway] is very exciting, because I think those are places where the bike will really shine."
After pushing Szoke all the way to the 2009 Parts Canada Superbike title McCormick is now seeking his fortune in the United States. But that doesn't necessarily mean the six-time national champion is having an easier time of things.
At Circuit ICAR he was hounded all the way by 17-year-old Jodi Christie. The native of Keene, Ont. won last year's HJC Pro Rookie of the Year award on the national tour and is one of the stars of the future on his Jodi Christie Racing / Durham Honda-backed Honda CBR600RR.
"I was a little shocked that Jodi went as fast as he did, and that he hung onto me for the full race," Szoke concedes. "But I saw at Shannonville [Motorsport Park] in the regionals that he's really picked up the pace.
"Calgary will be a bit tougher for him though, I think. He won't have as much horsepower with the 600 and it's tough there if you lose the draft."
Szoke sees his primary competition coming from St-Cesaire, Que.'s Kevin Lacombe, who finished third at ICAR on his Lacombe Racing Suzuki GSX- R1000.
The 27-year-old has never won the Canadian Superbike title, but placed second in 2006 and has been third in points on two occasions.
"Lacombe's the big one, he's been there before," Szoke points out. "True, he hasn't won the championship, but he's a true challenger. As the year goes on he's going to get faster and faster."
Another potential threat could come from the factory Rush HD / BMW Motorrad Canada team and its brand new BMW S1000RR motorcycles. The bikes enjoyed a solid debut at Circuit ICAR, with two-time Canadian national champion Francis Martin qualifying on the front row.
Sherbrooke, Que.'s Martin won his first career Superbike event at Race City in 1999 and the BMWs possess tremendous horsepower, which will serve them well on Race City's long drag strip front straight.
"I fully expect the BMWs to be fast in lap times, but they're new bikes and I think initially they will lack the consistency that's required," Szoke says.
Of course, while his rivals are improving Szoke is also making gains.
"I think we were at about 90 percent at Mirabel," he says. "Now the bikes are closer to 99 percent. We're a lot better than we were before. I was pushing up to that first race, but now I've had a few days to relax a bit, catch up on my sleep. I'm feeling better.
"I'm definitely learning the bike. I've never ridden it on a faster track like Race City, so there'll be more to learn this weekend. But we have a 'B' bike running now, which we didn't have at Mirabel, so now we can try things between the two bikes."
A seventh Parts Canada Superbike Championship would give Szoke the one national record he lacks. He is currently tied with Steve Crevier on six Canadian crowns.
"The big picture is the championship," he cautions. "There is a lot to think about."
But without doubt re-establishing his winning reputation at Race City, and erasing the memories of 2009, would be pretty sweet too.
The second and third rounds of the Parts Canada Superbike Championship take place June 25-27 at Calgary's Race City Motorsport Park. For ticket information call (403) 975-2849 or visit www.amra.ca.
The Parts Canada Superbike Championship will be featured on CityTV's Breakfast Television on Thursday, June 24. The show will be on location at Race City Motorsport Park from 6:00-9:00am.