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Honda has invited 6 or so journaists to race in the the CBR250R Superbike Challenge in ten races on five tracks this summer http://csbk.ca The journalists are grouped in with the real racers who are four kids aged 10 to 20 years old. A humbling idea to say the least but an opportunity I can't and didn't pass up!
Just over two weeks ago, I did my race license with Honda at Mosport on the development track. I did graduate with a race license, but I was dreading the first race day. Why? Because I was the slowest and I have to confess I was dreading how much harder it was going to be when the speeds increase and there's more riders on the track for race 1 in the series: Shannonville race weekend. Shannonville is a tiny place, nestled just East of Belleville about 2 hours outside of Toronto on Hwy 2 off of Hwy 401.
When I arrive at the gates, I can only remember my speed, or lack thereof, at licensing day and I'm dreading this first race. I mean, seriously not looking forward to it, but I am going to do it anyway.
The location is not what I expected either. I've been to a few racetracks in my time - Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Cattolica among them - and I have to say Shannonville is not like any of those. It's a small, comfortable place surounded by green. One large stand rises above the pits while another is on the opposite side of the track. On a good day, it could maybe hold 5,000 people. Inside, even at 9 am on a Friday morning, this place is the heart and soul of racing. There's already a bunch of pavilions up and the air is mired with gasoline fumes and the sound of the snarly superbikes, currently taking practice runs on the track. Oh, and everyone but me seems to be carrying tires around.
I start at registration. Several forms later, I'm allowed in and make a beeline for the Honda tent, where the CBR250R bikes are coming off the truck. I decide to wander around and take a look down the pits. Unlike most other tracks, Shannonville is completely flat and you can see the whole track. The superbikes are lapping pretty quickly and I can feel them pass-by barely two feet from where I'm standing. Seeing how quick they are, I'm even more scared.
Continuing to wander around, it's awesome to see the race teams and their bikes. Everyone is very friendly. Back at Honda, after the bikes are out, we fit our transponders and add several decals.
I also manage to spend some time with Jodi Christie a twenty-something, 600 pro superbike champion who raced for Honda last year and, today, is our 250 instructor. He's taking us out to show us the lines on the track, and I for one am very glad of it. Jodi let's me know the track here in Shannonville has various bumps, cracks and patches on the tarmac - more so than the Mosport development track I got my race license on. My nerves are really starting to go, and I know this because, I'm making more stupid jokes than usual.
Time is up - it's 11:25 am. The pit crew tells us to suit up and then helmet up. Engines fired, we start moving single file to the end of pit lane for twenty minutes of practice. My strategy is... a) not crash, b) follow Jodi as closely as possible to learn the track and c) not crash.
I'm on bike number 3, at the back. Sitting at the line in neutral, I realize this is the moment. I can either do this or I can't. I could fail or give up and I'm not prepared to that just yet. So, I take a deep breath, click down to first and open the throttle and we're moving. And I'm still smiling.
The Shannonville race track, bumps aside, is wider than Mosport development track which gives me some confidence. I feel like I'm riding faster than I did before. Still nowhere near fast enough, but it's reasonable. By the end of the practice, I feel like I am starting to get it. I can see where I can add some speed. I'm certainly not getting my knee down yet, but I did manage to grind my foot peg a little. Basically I need to hang off more. That will also make me faster.
After our 20 minute practice ride, the checkered flag pulls us back into the pits, I realized that my fear is not quite gone, but it's greatly diminished. I'm a long way from being good. I'm basically a country-mile from being competent, but at least I know I am not dangerous and I will improve.
I can't wait for the next practice run! Sadly, it isn't until four, so I head to my lodgings to drop the gear off.