Szoke, who has not lost at the Autodrome St-Eustache since 2011, was actually forced to work from behind after rival Ben Young grabbed the holeshot, though the Mopar Express Lane BMW Motorrad S1000RR rider needed only two laps to re-gain the lead.
Young, piloting a Scot-Build BMW out of Collingwood, ON, was unable to maintain the pace up front and ultimately settled for second ahead of Blysk Racing BMW's Samuel Trepanier. The St. Isidore, QC native was forced to start from tenth after failing the post-qualifying technical inspection on Saturday but worked his way to the podium after a thrilling battle with OneSpeed Chop Shop Kawasaki ZX-10R Ninja rider Trevor Daley (Mississauga, ON).
Szoke, who has now won three consecutive races to begin the year and eight-straight dating back to last season, was quick to applaud his rivals for making him earn the victory.
“I got a really good start, but obviously Ben got a better one,” Szoke laughed. “This is my strongest track on the [schedule], but these guys stepped up. Fortunately, I was able to pull out a gap and keep the pace until the end.”
As for Young, the former Brooklin Cycle Racing Pro Rookie of the Year aimed to keep things positive as he continues his quest for his first career win.
“We were giving all we had. We had a great start, it actually surprised me,” Young said. “It’s still disappointing, but we’re taking steps forward and now we just need to try for first in [round four].”
Trepanier, the consensus hometown favourite at the Quebec circuit, also turned in an inspiring performance after being forced to start further back on the grid.
“It gave me a lot of motivation,” Trepanier said, referencing the penalty. “I had a good battle with Trevor [Daley] and he’s very skilled and experienced, so it was very close.”
Daley was able to bring it home in fourth after a nail-biting battle with Trepanier, while Beaconsfield, QC's Michael Leon rounded out the top five aboard his Royal Distributing BMW. Notably, five of the top six bikes were BMW's, with Daley representing the only other manufacturer.
The top rookie in the feature race was Saint-Jerome, QC's Jean-Francois Aubin, who finished ninth aboard a Suzuki GSX-R1000 – the lone top-ten performance by a rookie so far this season. As a result, Aubin will pull within just two points of Lasalle, QC's Samuel Desmarais in the Brooklin Cycle Pro Rookie of the Year race.
The most thrilling battle of the afternoon may have been in the Liqui Moly Pro Sport Bike class, where defending champion Tomas Casas cruised to victory aboard his Parts Canada Yamaha YZF-R6 ahead of a brilliant battle for third.
The 19-year old Casas out of Peterborough, ON, was joined by DB Moto Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja pilot Sebastian Tremblay (Laval, QC) and fellow Yamaha rider Mitch Card (Ripley, ON) on the podium, though Card was locked in a thrilling four-way battle for much of the contest.
“The plan was to get a good start and luckily we were able to because there was a big battle behind me,” Casas said. “The heat was killing us, but I had a blast out there.”
Casas also took a moment to dedicate his victory to former pit crew member Jason Williams, who tragically lost his son Jaxon earlier in the week.
Blackstock, ON teenager Jake LeClair managed to get back to his winning ways in the Amateur Lightweight Sport Bike class, taking his fifth victory in five races to extend his championship lead aboard the Yamaha YZF-R3. Laval, QC's Alex Berthiaume, who won on Saturday to end LeClair's unbeaten streak, ran off in the penultimate corner to seal the victory for his younger counterpart.
"“It was a good, fun race,” LeClair said. “I grabbed the hole shot and was able to pull a gap, and unfortunately Alex rode off at the end so here we are [in first]."
The other two amateur classes were headlined by a number of local riders, with many new faces lining the podium in both the Magneti Marelli Amateur Superbike class and the Parts Canada Amateur Sport Bike class.
It was Blainville, QC's Guillaume Fortin who won the Superbike race aboard his BMW S1000RR, while Laval, QC's Pascal Bastien took second aboard a Yamaha YZF-R1 and St. Jerome, QC's Alexandre Cleary finished third riding a Suzuki GSX-R1000.
As for the Sport Bike class, it was Saint-Marc-sur-Richelieu, QC's Christian Allard who came away victorious aboard a Kawasaki ZX-6R Ninja after multiple red flags ended the race early, while 15-year old phenom Nicolas Meunier (Verdun, QC) finished second aboard a Kawasaki and Mirabel, QC's Luc LaBranche rounded out the podium aboard a Yamaha YZF-R6.
St. Hubert, QC's Patrick Blouin was named the Parts Canada Hard Charger Award winner after improving from a qualifying position of 14th to finish 5th in the race, while Meunier enters a tie for first in the Award standings after improving from a qualifying position of seventh.
Full results from all of the weekend's action, as well as information regarding round four at Atlantic Motorsport Park (which is also a Pro doubleheader), can be found on the series' official website at www.csbk.ca.