ALBERTA ROOKIE QUICKLY MAKING MARK TORONTO, Ont. (June 16) -- Without a doubt the sensation of the early rounds of the 2009 Parts Canada Superbike Championship has been 14-year-old rookie Royce McLean. The Coaldale, Alta. teenager is eighth in...
ALBERTA ROOKIE QUICKLY MAKING MARK
TORONTO, Ont. (June 16) -- Without a doubt the sensation of the early rounds of the 2009 Parts Canada Superbike Championship has been 14-year-old rookie Royce McLean.
The Coaldale, Alta. teenager is eighth in the Superbike point standings after the opening two events of the season and scored a superb seventh place finish in the most recent round at Circuit ICAR near Montreal. He is seventh in the standings in the Yoshimura Pro Sport Bike national support class and is the clear leader of the HJC Pro Rookie of the Year race.
But the person least surprised by his success appears to be McLean himself. The Team Toyota Yamaha / OTSFF rider is taking it all in stride as he prepares for his home event at Calgary's Race City Motorsport Park June 26-28, the third round of the seven-race national motorcycle road racing tour.
When asked if he has been taken aback by his quick start out of the gate, McLean considers the question only briefly before replying, "a little, but not too much. I started training on the bike in the second half of last season so I feel like I was pretty well prepared for this year."
It should perhaps come as no shock to see McLean's impressive start to his Pro career given his already rapid rise up the racing ladder. He was introduced to the sport by his Uncle Trent McLean, who raced briefly and also worked as a mechanic for west coast racing star Steve Dick.
Royce accompanied them to the track occasionally and soon showed an interest. He got involved with the Alberta Mini Roadracing Association, which provides a popular introduction to the sport for kids. The organization was also the starting point for current Parts Canada Superbike Championship points leader Brett McCormick of Saskatoon.
In 2007 Royce moved into the U.S.-based USGPRU racing series, which features regional and national titles for small capacity 125cc and 250cc motorcycles. He was seventh in the 125 national standings in his debut season, but last year McLean came within a hair of winning the national 125cc title. He won the final race in Salt Lake City but his championship rival claimed the runner-up finish by a tenth of a second and as a result beat McLean to the crown.
McLean's performances south of the border caught the attention of Yamaha Motor Canada, which signed him up to be part of its factory team on the Canadian national tour, joining veteran Quebec ace Kevin Lacombe and fellow rookie Tony Kasper from Minnesota.
Despite missing the official preseason test in Jennings, Fla. at the end of April McLean took little time getting comfortable with his new team and the considerable power of the Yamaha YZF-R6 600cc sport bike.
McLean finished seventh in the Pro Sport Bike season opener at Calabogie Motorsports Park in May and was 11th in the Superbike category.
In round two at Circuit ICAR McLean caused a stir by reaching the Pirelli SuperPole top 10 shootout for the Superbike class. He started the race ninth and finished seventh, hounding last year's top rookie, factory Kawasaki rider Alex Welsh all the way.
McLean started sixth in Pro Sport Bike and finished seventh after a race-long battle with six-time Canadian Superbike champion Steve Crevier, who at 43 years old is three times McLean's age!
McLean says adapting his riding style to the 600cc Yamaha has been the toughest part of his adjustment to his new environment.
"The hardest part is trying not to drag the bodywork," he laughs. "You can't carry the same amount of corner speed [as on the 125]. On the 125 it's all about keeping up your momentum and being smooth in all your movements. This is a little more 'point-and-shoot' in the corners. You really have to muscle the bike around."
To that end McLean is on a vigorous training regimen away from the race track to try and build up some muscle. He goes through a two-hour workout every morning during the week. On Saturdays he goes flat tracking on a dirt oval to further develop his technique, and Sunday is a day off.
One of his favourite non-racing pursuits is kick boxing, which he has been doing for three years.
Like any 14-year-old McLean is also kept busy with school work. He has been home schooled since Grade 2 and is currently taking Grade 9 courses. It is a year-round curriculum so he doesn't have the advantage of summer holidays that many kids his age look forward to.
"My only vacations are at the race track," he grins.
Former national racing star Dick has played a prominent role as McLean's tutor at the race track, and based on his early performances the youngster appears to be a quick study. He would like to one day reach the pinnacle of the sport, the MotoGP World Championship.
As for more immediate goals?
"I'd like to win a Canadian national as soon as I can," he says, "hopefully by the end of this year."
Sound ambitious? Sure. But at the rate things have been happening for McLean, don't bet against him following through on that plan.
The third round of the Parts Canada Superbike Championship takes place June 26-28 at Race City Motorsport Park in Calgary. For ticket information go to www.calgarysuperbike.com.