The last couple of seasons have been up-and-down for 24-year-old Pro racer Connor Campbell. In 2022, he was showing considerable progress in the Liqui Moly Pro Sport Bike category, only to have a season-ending practice fall at Atlantic Motorsport Park. Campbell’s 2023 come back ride was a great one, coming from behind to win the opening Sport Bike race of 2023 in the rain at Shannonville Motorsport park last May.
That win also marked the debut of the Bridgestone rain tire in CSBK, during the first-ever day of racing with the new spec rubber.
From there, things started to get complicated, with a variety of minor and larger issues, including mechanical dramas and a big crash in the Carousel early at round 2 at Grand Bend. In a class as competitive as Pro Sport Bike, with so many different winners looking to establish their credibility, any kind of issue have a severe knock-on effect.
As well, Campbell wasn’t all that comfortable out on the track.
“It really wasn’t too bad,” downplays Cambell of his surgery issues from his Atlantic incident in 2022. “But I didn’t really have a lot of strength in that shoulder, and things were shifting around; at the end of the race, it was noticeable.”
“So, after the season, I decided to get the hardware removed, so that we’d have one less concern heading into 2024.” Shortly after the final race of the year at Shannonville, Campbell had 12 screws and 3 plates removed during surgery.
The final event of the season was a pivotal career moment for the well-liked Campbell. With various issues ongoing with Canadian Kawasaki’s “A” program built around new Hall-of-Famer Jordan Szoke, Trevor Dion exited that team and a ZX-10R Ninja was available at the 2023 Bridgestone CSBK Series final three races.
At the time Campbell did his best to downplay the possible opportunity to make his Superbike debut, partially due to a key challenge: there was no test day available prior to Shannonville so he would have practice, qualifying and a race during his first day of riding the 200 horsepower “mean green” entry.
While he was frustrated to just miss a chance to jump through to the top ten “SuperPole” qualifying, the race did work out well – even if it didn’t look good initially!
“It defiantly was intimidating, and when I didn’t make SuperPole, I wasn’t sure what to think. Then in my first race start, it was absolutely terrible – I think I had to work my way up from dead last. ]But in the end that experience was good, too.”
“My goal was a top eight finish, so when I got that in the opener, I was really happy. My goal was to be sure to finish – it’s not my bike, it’s the end of the season, and I needed to keep me and the bike in one piece.”
Saturday’s National went even better, with Cambell working his way up to seventh, and then earning the FAST Riding School Hard Charger Award – including some additional cash as well as podium television coverage with TSN.
“In the first few laps, I thought ‘wow, this is a big, big difference,’” reflected Campbell of his crazy Superbike debut National event last September. “I have ridden a lot of bikes, but I wasn’t quite ready for the Kawasaki, and how aggressive it was. The Superbike was a big, big difference from my 600 Ninja, and my Sport Bike is strong. It was intimidating to start with.”
Prior to his first Shannonville session, team owner Szoke spent some time working considering set-up choices with Campbell, and that effort was a bonus.
“Yeah, Jordan asked me some questions, and then worked to set up the bike the way I would like it. He said that I should take it easy, but that I know how to ride a motorcycle. It felt good from the start, and the whole situation was a real vote of confidence.”
Looking back on his big bike debut, Campbell reflects that “the Superbike suits my style, as well as my size. I already like riding the Superbike more that the 600.”
Although coy about his plans for next year, Campbell expects to be in the feature class full time for 2024.
“Obviously, Superbike has to be our goal. We have some good sponsors back on board, and we are working through our plans. The plan is to stick with Kawasaki and run our own program. I’m already training hard, and I aim to be out on the ice riding as soon as we have some ice!”
Always looking to collaborate with local firms, Campbell will again get substantial support from Ottawa’s big Kubota dealer, B&T MacFarlane. While Campbell will wait until the new year to confirm the details of his upcoming program, he does sadly confirm that his Kawasaki will no longer be presented in heavy equipment manufacturer Kubota’s distinctive orange scheme.
“I’m excited about the change to ride with Ben (Young, BMW), Alex (Dumas, Suzuki) and Jordan next season,” says Campbell. “Get on the grid with all the top names – it’s going to be blast!”
When asked about his former class, the unpredictable and exciting Pro Sport Bike division, Cambell goes with an unusual choice for 2024: rookie Pro Maverick Cyr, winning of both key “big bikes” Amateur National categories with Triumph last season.
“That jump from Amateur to Pro is a big one, and everyone warns you, but you can’t be fully prepared,” explains Campbell, who climbed the ladder from Amateur Lightweight to the Feature class in quick time.
“When you move to Pro, you learn that everyone is motivated, and if you leave and inch, they’re going to take it. Amateur is laid back! But I think Cyr could have what it takes, he rode really well last season, faced a lot of different challenges.”
- From Colin Fraser