Entering the season finale of what has been a wide-open Liqui Moly Pro Sport Bike campaign, it’s hard to imagine any more curveballs being thrown at David MacKay or Matt Simpson as they prepare for their title showdown at Shannonville Motorsport Park, September 15-17.
However, the biggest twist of all is just now entering the equation.
Reigning champion Trevor Dion will return to the middleweight championship for the last weekend of the year, having initially decided not to defend his #1 plate and focus instead on his first full Superbike campaign.
The only rookie champion in the category’s history, Dion won twice last season and stood on the podium in six of eight races to clinch the title by eight points over MacKay, breaking plenty of Sport Bike records in the process.
The 21-year-old will now return to the grid aboard his LDS Consultants Kawasaki for the first time in over a calendar year, and while he will be making his national debut at SMP after missing round one due to injury, it’s hard not to pencil Dion in as at least a podium threat in both races if not the rider to beat.
If Dion isn’t the betting favourite, though, that honour will likely go to yet another name trying to play spoiler in the finale, as Sebastien Tremblay is set to debut his Turcotte Performance Suzuki GSX-R750 machine.
While mathematically still in the championship hunt, Tremblay would need to overcome a 52-point deficit as he sits fifth in the overall standings. Instead, the 2021 champion will focus on piloting the bigger-displacement Suzuki to a victory in its Sport Bike debut, after beginning the year on a GSX-R600.
That may seem like a disaster for title leader MacKay and the chasing Simpson, but the reality is that the plan hardly changes for the two title rivals. With 16 points between them and then a 29-point cushion to third, it seems the main thing either side needs to worry about is just finishing ahead of the other.
The math becomes easier for MacKay, though, who has guided his ODH Snow City Cycle Kawasaki to the top spot thanks to five podiums and two wins this season. Both are the most in the Sport Bike class for 2023, a year which has seen a record six different winners in seven races and nine different podium finishers.
A quick look at the point structure will show that the biggest difference in points comes at the top – with 25 for a win, 20 for second, and 16 for third – while the difference tails off to just a single point between each place from fifth down to 15th.
That means MacKay might actually welcome the threat of Dion and Tremblay at the front, as his 16-point lead over Simpson will be tougher to overcome if the two rivals find themselves battling for places outside the podium.
Simpson has thus far found himself off the list of race winners despite his title challenge, benefitting from his consistent run of four podiums to stay in the championship mix. The Blackstock Motorsports Yamaha rider won’t necessarily need to win in order to beat MacKay for the title, but a pair of podiums seem like the necessary minimum if MacKay is able to stay near the front.
He did just that in his last appearance at SMP, finishing third and second as he looked to avoid the chaos at the front, a smart move at the time but a luxury he now won’t have at the final round with the title on the line.
Podium spots are hardly a guarantee for either rider, though, as Dion and Tremblay are far from the only ones capable of beating the two championship favourites.
Brad Macrae has already done so at Shannonville, winning race two of the opener after crashing out of the lead on the last lap of race one, and the Colron Excavating Yamaha rider will feel more than capable of adding a second career victory to close out the year.
Another rider keen to add another victory to his resumé will be Francis Martin, who recently confirmed his entry at the season finale. The two-time Superbike champion had his sensational comeback ruined by a bizarre mechanical failure at CTMP, but will look to make up for it with his first Sport Bike win since 2007 aboard his Purple Skull Brewing/Liqui Moly Suzuki.
Elliot Vieira will also have something to say for the frontrunners, after finally shaking the rust off his GP Bikes Ducati at the most recent round in CTMP. While Vieira endured a disastrous season opener at the venue in May, he has since come to grips with his V2 Panigale, evidenced by a win and second-place finish last time out.
The other breakout star of the CTMP weekend, John Laing, will also be eyeing some Shannonville redemption after his debut showing five months ago. The Vass Performance Kawasaki rider grabbed the holeshot twice in his CSBK introduction, crashing out in race one but finishing fourth in race two, and his confidence will be at an all-time high after his debut win in the AMP make-up race.
One former Shannonville winner won’t be taking the grid, though, as Connor Campbell’s graduation to the Superbike field will come at the expense of his B&T MacFarlane/Kubota Kawasaki program, which opened the season with an SMP victory.
Another storyline to watch will be in the inaugural Bickle Racing Pro Twins class, where Andrew Van Winkle looks poised to make history as the youngest pro champion in CSBK history.
The 16-year-old FD Racing Suzuki star appeared set for a runner-up finish in his debut season, but an unfortunate crash and slew of injuries for championship leader Jeff Williams have opened the door for Van Winkle to snatch the inaugural trophy.
Van Winkle finished second in both of the opening races at Shannonville, earning a haul of 40 points on the weekend, and he will only need 26 this time around to move past the sidelined Williams and bring home a historic title.
As it stands, Tomas Casas became the youngest ever pro champion when he clinched the Sport Bike crown at 18 years old in 2017, but Van Winkle could break that record by nearly two years if he can erase his championship deficit at the season finale.
The full schedule for the Liqui Moly Pro Sport Bike season finale doubleheader can be found on the series’ official website at CSBK.ca.
- From Professional Motorsports Productions