Last week, Canadian Kawasaki Motors announced that Jordan Szoke would lead a two-pronged attack on the Bridgestone CSBK’s Pro Superbike feature class this season. The news of Szoke’s return to the series he has often dominated, after missing all of 2022 due to injuries suffered on a M/X machine, is big for CKM and CSBK.
However, the official debut of Dion as a Superbike regular might turn out to be the most important development. Last year, 20-year-old Dion won the Liqui Moly Pro Sport Bike National series in his first attempt at a full year on the CSBK tour. The middleweight category was a busy one, with five different winners, and Dion took control and held on to the championship lead from race one of the series at his home track of Grand Bend.
That Grand Bend event had further distractions, in a good way, for the Dion team. Last year’s opener also marked Dion’s debut in national superbike action on the LDS Consultants BMW. At a track Dion knows well due to his front running status with the local SOAR Series, he scored a surprise B.S. Batteries Pole Position – Trevor started from pole position in his first big bike start!
So, while Dion’s big bike experience is limited, there is no doubt that the new Kawasaki Superbike team has two racers that could win races. Last year, eventual Champ Ben Young (BMW) and outgoing number one Alex Dumas (Suz), split the feature race victories, but there should be more competition at the front in 2023.
For over a decade, single bike teams, often involving family members, have been standard operating procedure for the CSBK tour. So Canadian Kawasaki’s decision to support two racers, not one, in significant.
Szoke knows all about running his own team, starting in 1998 when the upstart teen-ager beat his far more experienced Kawasaki rivals (Don Munroe and Michael Taylor) to earn his first career overall Canadian number one plate. While the top guns of that era were all Kawasaki mounted, they each rode for their own squad.
When Szoke returned to Canada from the US for 2002, things had really changed. He was a last-minute addition to Scott Miller’s Fast Company-run Blackfoot Suzuki GSX-R mega team, joining stalwart Francis Martin. Szoke won Superbike, Martin took Open Sport Bike, and satellite teamster Clint McBain was the middleweight Sport Bike National number one – a Suzuki clean sweep of the top national classes of the time.
After the economy went sideways in 2009, Szoke lost his ride with the dominant Kawasaki program, and then opted to build his own Honda effort lead by Miller for 2010. Szoke became the first rider to sweep a season of Superbike competition, and almost earned every Sport Bike middleweight win too – his only loss on his CBR600RR was against Alex Welsh, his replacement at Kawasaki.
Since that time, is it fair to say that the only two-rider team to field two racers who could win in the feature class with the RadX works BMW Motorrad team of 2011? In the second and last season that BMW ran an official squad with their new S 1000 RR, Brett McCormick returned from the US to lead a program that featured RACE series star Mark Ferreria.
Recently, some manufacturers have supported several potential front runners, but to call all potential winners might be a stretch. Then there are the politics – if BMW’s Ben Young needed help, would the other BMW racers help the corporate cause?
The answer might be as obvious as the most recent round of the CSBK tour last August at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Ben Young’s Van Dolder’s Home Team entered a second bike for Kenny Riedmann, a front runner as recently at CTMP 2020 when he subbed on the Suzuki of COVID-restricted Trevor Daley.
In the end, Riedmann, who currently races on four wheels with some success in the Radial series, couldn’t quite get up to the pace in the limited time available, and scratched form the three C.T.M.P. races. If Riedmann had taken part, then the Young program would have met our SuperTeam criteria by starting two proven Superbike race winners.
Of course, the dark side of SuperTeams is the risk of the two star racers getting in each other’s way at the front of the pack, let alone in the championship standings. No one expects Dion to earn the overall championship in his first attempt 2023, but that is exactly the kind of upset that Szoke pulled off back in 1998!
The big difference in age might make this new Kawasaki set-up a little safer than most. Szoke has often spoken, in the last few years, of moving from riding to team work in the future, and specially mentioned current Yamaha leader Tomas Casas as a possible candidate.
So it has been Szoke’s possible plan to work with a younger ace, and perhaps move to running a team for a manufacturer, built around that competitor, in the future. So Szoke will have at least two hats to wear, and business issues to consider, as the season unfolds with Dion.
Still, it would be exciting if the new CKM squad, built by Szoke, enters September’s Shannonnville Motorsport Park season final with two of their racers in the championship hunt.
- From Colin Fraser