In early December, CSBK Pro Superbike front-runner Michael Leon was busy doing his autograph duty, when long-term backers Royal Distributing opened a store in the Kanata, in the greater Ottawa area.
The fifth Royal location was a busy spot in early December, and Leon was on hand for the launch with his vividly colored BMW S1000RR Superbike CSBK National racer.
“It really was an amazing event, it exceeded everyone’s expectations of both attendance and sales,” confirmed Leon. “There was a line up at 7 AM, and the store didn’t even open until 9! It went gangbusters, the whole event was really good.
“This store is unusual, it’s between a Dollarama and a Bed, Bath and Beyond,” continued Leon, who is in sales himself, but with an engineering angle. “There are lots of family shopping opportunities. I think this will work well, so we’ll see how the new store fits compared with the established Royal branches.”
One of the benefits of a non-track sponsor opportunity means Leon gets to visit with his sponsors, in this case both the Royal group and the Joe Rocket management.
“I got a chance to hang out with the President of Royal, Scott Spark, and their CEO, Jordan Smart, and that doesn’t happen at a race, when I’m a little busy,” confirms Leon. “We have a great relationship, but it helps to check in, in person.”
Leon is coming off a frustrating season with CSBK in 2021, a year that promised much but ultimately provided little in terms of results. The busy, last minute, COVID-affected schedule set-up didn’t help.
“It was an interesting year, it was unfortunate that things got so condensed,” reflects Leon, who suffered a pair of crashes that hindered his season. “I missed things like going to Shubenacadie in Nova Scotia, really central parts of the Championship from a long-term perspective.
“Some different tracks and races could have levelled the playing field, and spread events out a little, taken some of the pressure away from each specific day. For instance, you really need to pay your dues at Shubenacadie, and then the racing gods will let you go fast!
“I understand the whole things was very complicated for everyone, with few or restricted spectators, and changes to the plan on the run for the past two years. But I would like to get back to a version of what we had before, find the balance.”
If it seems like Leon is making excuses about the past racing tour, nothing could be further from the truth. The veteran front runner is painfully objective when it comes to evaluating his team’s performance.
“Our team made some critical mistakes, and our results don’t reflect our successes. In many cases this is down to me, I’m the rider.
“For instance, I’m happy we worked on some issues with the new bike, and we did struggle with grip. Eventually we figured things out and switched to a new rear shock link. In racing, as with most things, everything is clearer in hindsight.”
Leon says that the move towards multiple Pro Superbike races during each weekend, an issue that turned problematic at the much-adjusted 2021 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park event, will require a revision to his team’s standard procedures.
“We learned, with our crash in the opening of three races in one afternoon at C.T.M.P. and our tire concerns at Calabogie II, that you really do need two bikes to be safe, to be competitive day in and day out,” considers Leon. “It looks like there will be more double headers and even another Mosport triple header in 2022, so these are things we will need to consider when building our plan for next season.”
Leon has considered retirement in recent seasons, but states that he is still excited about racing his BMW.
“I think I have set personal bests at the tracks we have raced at the past two seasons,” he explains, regarding C.T.M.P. and Calabogie. “I still need to work on getting the most out of the tire as it starts to drop off late in the race – I need to maintain the grip level at the rear for the life of the tire.”
Still, Leon confirms that he doesn’t want to get tied up in the minutia of bike set up all day, every day.
“You have to be careful not to take all of these things too seriously,” he laughs. “I have to keep some perspective, I’m doing this very seriously, but I’m also doing it for fun. I really do still want to get out there and race, but there are still some pieces to fit together.”
In 2021, Leon’s long-serving crew chief, Kyle Blakely, was busy riding track days, as well as tuning Leon’s new BMW, learning via an on-line electronics summary out of Germany in the Spring.
“Kyle and I have been together since I went to the BMW for Superbike in 2015,” confirms Leon, the Pro 6 GP 2021 Regional overall Champ. “Kyle now runs our data, and he’s getting pretty good at it.”
In 2015, his rookie Feature class season, Leon came very close to winning his first career Pro Superbike National in the wet at his home track of Autodrome St-Eustache, northwest of Montrel, QC. The race was interrupted by a red flag, but Leon lead both elements, only to fall from the lead near the end of the race.
“I learned so much that day,” starts Leon, “and not just because of all the crazy things that happened to us!
“Jon Cornwell (famed racer and chassis tuner) got us ready for the race that day at St-Eustache, he said he had two recipes – one we could make in twenty minutes and one that would take two hours to change the bike, to make it work on a slippery track.
“For the first time, it really felt like I had a first place Superbike. I was easily able to go to the front. But I had a momentary lack of concentration, and I went down. You have to be willing to go for it when everything lines up, and recognize that opportunity.
“Now, it’s not so frustrating (the near miss at St-Eustache in 2015), and we’ve been pretty close a couple of times since then, getting the most from all the variables. But I still want that fun.
“We were coming of our terrible season with the MV Agusta triple in Sport Bike, where we burned through three engines and just decided to park it. In the end, we joined BMW for the Feature class, there was just more attention, more opportunities.
“It started with a conversation at a bike show, with Chris Duff from BMW Motorrad and Sandy Noce of Pro 6. That lead to the BMW Demo program at Calabogie, and we have all stayed together ever since.”
While Leon isn’t ready to retire, he does admit that he would like to stay involved when he decides to stop racing.
“Right now, it seems like I am working towards coaching, and I can see where I could concentrate on working with up-and-coming riders,” says Leon. “I can see getting more involved with that community, and I’m heading that way for 2022.”