NEWS: Leon On the Podium at Calabogie!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

To make a long story short:

The global pandemic has forced the country into isolation and has caused the cancellation of professional sports around the world. CSBK was not exempt and the first 4 planned CSBK events of the 2020 schedule could not take place. CSBK and Pro 6 Cycle Trackdays found a way to hold a single day, double header event, without spectators, at Calabogie Motorsports Park on July 25th, in order to help salvage the Canadian National Superbike racing season. Some racers came out to race, others did not. Royal Distributing stepped up to the plate with continued support for Michael Leon and his BMW Superbike Team to be able to compete on the new 2020 K67 S1000RR BMW. The team rose to the occasion! Michael qualified 2nd, and finished 3rd in the first race, thus becoming the first Canadian racer to score a podium on the new S1000RR model. Unfortunately, an electrical error code forced the team out of 4th place in the second race. More racing in 2020 at Canadian Tire Motosport Park may be on the horizon for CSBK. Officials are working hard to make it happen.

The long story:

It has been 11 and ½ months since our last race report which was to update fans about the last CSBK round at Mosport in 2019.
The global pandemic has wreaked havoc on all our lives and I honestly did not think we would be able to race this year.

In April, COVID-19 complicated the prep of the new 2020 BMW Motorrad S1000RR Superbike. Many parts were not available due to delivery issues. We received the bike late, and it had to be sent to the dealer in Ottawa because all the dealers in Quebec were closed. In the end, all these problems did not matter as the first 4 rounds were cancelled. We took these small difficulties in stride. People were getting sick, businesses and schools had to close, and most had to stay home. As our lives were disrupted, it was important to keep things in perspective. Our racing series did not look likely to happen, but my family, our crew, and their families, were all safe and healthy. That is the single most important part of our story.
We pressed on with preparation, knowing that if we could not race in 2020, we would be prepared for 2021.

Initially, we were going to use the Alpha Racing Kit ECU which includes a Datalogger dash, harness and control buttons. The kit is $9,000 Canadian. Instead, I decided to simply reflash the stock ECU. I could not justify investing $9,000 on a bike that I might not ever actually race if the season was cancelled. The new K67 S1000RR suffers from a flat spot in 2nd and 3rd gear that is present in the stock ECU to allow the bike to pass the strict EPA noise and exhaust emissions. So, the ECU was sent to a tuner in Texas for reflashing.

Hindle Exhaust provided us with an exhaust system. We ordered Ohlins fork internals and a shock from our friend Jon Cornwell. We kept the stock suspension linkage. Forsaken Motorsports provided a set of adjustable triple clamps to fit the new 2020 S1000RR model. We decided to leave the motor stock, at least until we raced it a few times and could measure the performance against some of our rival’s bikes. Unfortunately, Armour Bodies, our long time sponsor for body work was not able to meet our required delivery. Again, due to the pandemic. We used an Italian manufacturer, Moto XP Ricambi. They were able to deliver quickly and the fit and finish was awesome. The goal was to keep it simple and focus on getting the most out of our package.

Things finally came together, and we ended up with a good starting point.

Another change for this season besides the new bike, is that Kyle Blakely has expanded his role within the team.  He has been our crew chief since 2015.  This season, he has also taken over the responsibility of running the data system on the BMW Superbike.  During past seasons, as well as riding, I tried to manage the data acquisition responsibilities on the team.  I am fascinated by the technical side of racing.  I have come to realize that my focus on handling the data was not out of necessity but simply because I like it.  Kyle is more than capable of handling this duty.  He has been running a data system on his regional race bike at Shannonville for a few seasons.  Managing the data AND riding, although fun and challenging, is not the path to best results.  It was time to let go.  Kyle has jumped at the chance to take it on and I will focus on being the best rider that I can be.

I had the chance to use the bike to do some one on one coaching with Pro 6 Cycle Trackdays to break it in.  Kyle was able to attend to get used to pulling and reading the data.  On the new bike, the traction control is more refined.  When it intervenes, it feels less intrusive and puts more power to the ground without robbing as much power.  It is hard to describe but the TC feels more efficient.  The handling is improved. It changes direction faster.  When flipping the bike from full lean right to full lean left between bogie corner 19 and 20, the bike feels closer to a 600 than a superbike when changing direction.  On the downside, we have a bit of instability when the front wheel sets back down after small wheelies and the edge grip could be improved.

When we heard the Calabogie event was going to happen, I was unsure about whether Royal Distributing was going to be able to commit the resources to support our team this season. Their stores had been closed, at one point, for a few months and marketing budgets in many industries were being cut. I was worried for nothing. Within hours of letting Royal know that we had the opportunity to go racing, they made the commitment to help do it. This is the 12th season that I receive support from the folks at Royal. I could not be prouder to represent an organization. They love motorsports and that makes it easy for me to represent them with pride.

Off we headed to Calabogie, to practice, qualify and have 2 races in the same day. Jaret, my good friend and crew member, offered to let us use is superb Toy Hauler as home for the event. David and Karl, both good friends, rounded out our crew for the event. It would be important to have a lot of hands on deck with so little time available.

I got up to speed in the first 15-minute session. We ended up 5th. Kyle made some small changes to the rear geometry in search of more side grip. Next up, 2 hours later was qualifying. I got out at the beginning and put in about 5 laps, with the fastest lap being a time of 2:04.192 using the 0129 compound Dunlops. I was content with that time. For comparison, this time was 0.3 seconds faster than I qualified the last time we raced at Bogie in 2015. At the end of the session, we were sitting in 2nd place, 0.209 seconds off pole. This new bike is good!

Since the event would not have spectators, we decided to host a quick Facebook live video on race day, to allow some of the 95,000+ Royal Distributing FB followers to have a behind-the- scenes look at the race. At 1pm, I went live on the Royal FB page. To be honest, the whole live thing was way more stressful than racing. I spoke about preparing our superbike for racing and how qualifying and practice went. Afterward, I realized that I had the phone turned at 90 degrees the whole time. I am such a goof. Other than that, I think it turned out OK.
Check it out here:

For race one, I had a mediocre start and was running 3rd into the first few corners.  I was able to power past Guerin on the run from corner 4 to 5.  In the opening few laps, Szoke, who was in the lead, was able to open a gap of a few seconds.  I ran in second for many laps.  My pit board was showing +zero and I could hear the rider’s engines close behind on each lap while entering corner 12.  I tried to run a protective line, while trying to conserve the rear tire.  Edge grip started to suffer on lap 4 or 5.  With a few laps to go, Williams and then Daley came by.  While in 4th on the second to last lap, Williams spun up the rear on the exit of 7 and I was able to capitalize on it with a better drive and made the pass into corner 8.  I tried to make a last lap pass on Daley in corner 16 but could not make it stick.  The race was won by Skoke, with Daley in 2nd 3.196 seconds behind him and I finished in 3rd, 0.3 seconds behind him.   That marked my first Pro Superbike National CSBK podium!

There was no time to celebrate.  At around 6 pm, we lined up to do it again.  My start for this one was much better.  I had a good launch coming off the line first, but Szoke slipped by into corner one.  I put my head down to try to latch onto him for the opening laps.  To be honest, I struggled to get into the groove a bit and Williams made the pass into corner 17.  On the next lap, Guerin came by at the same spot.  As I tried to settle down and work my way forward again, an error code showed up on the dash and the throttle stopped responding.  I came to a stop in corner 5.

A bittersweet end to a great day.  BMW suspects that the problem may be related to a faulty airbox servo motor and will replace the parts for us.
I just want to give a shout out to everyone at CSBK and Pro 6 Cycle who hosted the event.  While the one-day event is not ideal, they made it work – at least we got to race!
I cannot thank my crew enough.  Kyle, Jaret, David and Karl were awesome!  It would have been impossible without them.
We would never had made it to the grid without the support of our sponsors: Royal Distributing, BMW Motorrad Canada, Pro 6 Cycle, Windmill Motorsports and Machine, Dunlop Roadracing Tires, Hindle Exhaust, Forsaken Motorsports, Bell Helmets, Joe Rocket and Dave Smith.  Thank-you!

End release.

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