The 2023 Motul FIM MiniGP National series competed its inaugural season at the Lombardy Go-Kart venue north of Kingston last weekend, with the final three races of the season total of ten to complete. The event was held in conjunction with the local County Fair, so there was a huge variety of food options for racers, fans, and family, as well as lawn mower racing, monster trucks, freestyle dirt bikes and the more typical cow and horse events.
Back at the newly renovated Lombardy facility, the young competitors were feeling the pressure that comes with the opportunity to represent your country at a World Championship event. This series is run under very strict FIM guidelines, nothing like most mini and club activities. The rules focus is in preparation for the MotoGP-spec structure that comes with supporting that premier tour for the World title battle in Valencia at the end of November.
Pre-season, many expected Ben Hardwick of Sudbury, ON, age 14, to be the rider to beat since he had challenged the very impressive Vincent Lalande last year. That season didn’t lead to Valencia, although the fight between Lalande and Hardwick certainly helped to establish the spec Ohvale Championship in Canada.
Since then, Lalande has “aged out” of MiniGP and moved to the Super Sonic Road Race School Amateur Lightweight Sport Bike National class for big bikes at CSBK, the category sponsored by MiniGP organizer Toni Sharpless’ riding school. Currently, Lalande leads that Championship in his first full-sized season.
Back at Lombardy, Hardwick was doing his best to salvage his season after an inconsistent start at the opening western rounds in June. In round three at Lombardy a week prior, going in a clockwise direction, Hardwick took his first two wins to move into long shot title contention.
Treston Morrison had dominated the BC National opener, winning all three races, and was the series favorite moving forward to his (and many of the other competitors’) home race in Alberta at Strathmore. But since event one his effort had suffered mechanical issues and some on track drama, too.
During the opening races, ten-year-old Michael Galvis (now 11) had quietly moved to the front, the Columbian born ex moto crosser shaking off minor mistakes to win twice in Alberta. Opening regional victor Lincoln Scott, also at the series entry age as with Galvis, had broken his wrist at Strathmore right before the seasons started, and needed medical clearance to ride through the pain of the opening rounds, spoiling his promise – at least for 2023.
On a hot and dusty weekend, using the counterclockwise version of an improved Lombardy for the first time, Hardwick netted pole position for the three races, joined on the front row by Galvis and Morrison.
Morrison got a great start to take control of the opener, only to slide off in the new section of track, entering the bus stop, early in the race. This set Hardwick clear to score his third straight victory and opening the real possibility of a tie for the Championship in the final Championship points standings.
Third in the opener was Ashton Parker, the son of former top Women’s Cup Competitor Misty Hurst gaining solid form after a so-so early season. Parker earned his first podium after a good dice with the CSBK Scholarship entry of Rhys McNutt and Fifth finisher Scott.
Race two, mid-afternoon, provided the action everyone was waiting for – a straight up battle between the most likely title contenders. Galvis worked into the lead and then withstood considerable pressure from Hardwick, who had Morrison all over the rear wheel of his Ohvale.
As is often the case when a title chase gets close, the fastest laps were in reverse of the final race nine placing: Morrison best at 47.9, the Hardwick with a best tour of 48 flat and victor Galvis at 48.2. Making a safe pass stick was a truly difficult challenge.
All three were feeling the pressure of needing to finish to stay in the title hunt, but the victory for Galvis meant each of the three had three wins over the Series, and Hardwick would now be very hard pressed to overcome the Galvis points lead. Morrison was still a threat for the crown.
The final race was the type of dramatic, season deciding performance that every Championship organizer dreams about. Hardwick finally got a decent start from pole to lead, while Galvis and Morrison (big surprise!) got hot over second, right from the lights. But Morrison over-cooked a pass into the final turn and slid off, setting up the title run for Galvis – and a trip to Spain for likely runner-up Hardwick.
Then things got really interesting, as Hardwick slowed his pace and Galvis seemed reluctant (and smart) not to engage. This led to an incredible pass by Parker, now a very close third and under serious pressure from a charging Scott. Parker dove under the two leaders into the first turn, almost crashed exiting the hairpin, and took the lead in a National for the first time in his life!
To say this was a shock to the front runners was an understatement. However, both Hardwick and Galvis knew that Parker was not a threat in the standings, so that is how they finished: firs time victor Parker, followed by Euro-bound Hardwick and Galvis. Parker and Hardwick shared fastest tour, with an identical 48.559 lap.
British Columbia’s Parker was a happy if confused victor, admitting he had no idea how things were going to play out as he made a move described by one insider as “the bravest pass I have ever seen.” Galvis and Hardwick were still busy grasping the fact that after an incredibly competitive season, they had held off the strong western contingent to earn the right to battle the very best in three months in Spain.
One of the most excited people trackside was MiniSBK Instructor and CSBK top Superbiker for Yamaha Canada Tomas Casas, who not that long ago was a very young racer on the Honda CBR125R Championship trail. Casas climbed the CSBK ladder pre MiniGP and has spent lots of time with this generation of young athletes.
“T.V. Tommy” was thrilled by their strong performances over a difficult day. As a bonus, Casas could also congratulate the Galvis family in their native Spanish! This could be helpful when Michael meets the Grand Prix boys at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, November 26.
- From Colin Fraser