It has been a long time since motorcycle racing was really on my radar. I remember watching MotoGP at my grandmother’s house near the end of Valentino Rossi’s early 2000s dominance. I have grown up my entire life around motorcycles, mostly Harleys, yet I had never come to appreciate just how magnificent they are in a racing environment until I arrived at Shannonville on Saturday for the Super Series season finale.
I have taken photos for everything on four wheels I’ve been able to, be it Pinty’s NASCAR, Sports Cars for IMSA and Porsche GT3 Cup, Bonestock on dirt tracks, and even the Lindsay Derby. Considering all of that, nothing I have watched in person compares to the breathtaking challenge that the riders take on for the Super Series.
Finding myself trackside once again with COVID-19 restrictions in effect felt very different than all of my previous experiences. The absence of fans, bar a handful, was a strange thing to experience myself, especially after witnessing empty grandstands in other categories of motorsport. The only way I can really describe it as a calm, yet strange type of quiet. Every time I peered down my viewfinder to line up the next shot, the absence cheering and crowd noise felt almost as though it was throwing off my mental focus in some weird way. To anyone looking at these photos out of context, every shot would appear as if it was a practice session, rather than the high-octane Super Series championship finale.
Saturday morning was cold, with frost on the grass and some cold surface temperatures on the tarmac. The schedule was delayed by an hour, but that took nothing away from the spectacle that was the Lightweight Sportsman practice. As soon as they took to the track, they held nothing back. Blazing down the front straight, leaning deep into turn 2 and 3, and blasting away into the curvy hidden sections, slowing through the chicane, emerging into sight on the long back straight, cornering through the final ‘s’ curves, and bursting back across the line to do it all over again. I was in total shock.
Watching the riders blast by me at 250kph made me think, as safe as motorsport has become throughout the years, motorcycle racing still remains a dangerous sport. There are no roll-cages, no halos, no airbags. It is still very safe, with better leathers, better helmets, and better braces, but these riders still have the risk of being thrown off, breaking bones, being concussed, and much worse. No matter the risks, they still ride.
During the midday break on the first day, I met up to chat with longtime Canadian motorcycle racer, Phil Sousa. He told me about some of his first accidents, just how far safety has come in the sport, how much faster some of the bikes are, taught me the difference between categories, and helped me understand some of the more intricate parts of the sport. Phil described one of his accidents for me from his early career, but was always adamant to get back on his bike after recovering.
This made me think about the three on-track incidents from the morning practice and qualifying sessions, all but two riders repaired their bikes, sorted their injuries, and were right back on track for the race in the afternoon. No matter what happens, true racers will find a way to continue racing.
The only riders that did not participate in the following sessions of the weekend were Russ Miller and his co-rider, who had a bad accident during the first lap of the Saturday Sidecar Practice. I will get more into Sidecar racing soon.
When the race sessions began after the midday break on Sunday, I found myself on the outside of turn 13 watching the riders battle it out towards the end of each lap.
As a member of the media, I have never attended a race that compared to the incredible fight that was Round 6 of the Pro-Am Superbikes. The rider to watch was Brad Macrae, Amateur Superbike competitor riding the #17 Yamaha R6, starting on the grid far behind the front-running Pro-division. As the lights went out, Macrae got an amazing start, quickly becoming the leader of the Amateur-division. After a few fast laps, he began to approach the Pro backmarkers. The track commentator was going absolutely ballistic as he watched the action unfold before him, elated as Macrae overtook one Pro, then another.
When the final minutes of the session were flagged by the front-straight marshall, Macrae began his final fight with the Pro race-leader, Mike Raniowski. Mike, on the red and yellow #725, put up an excellent fight, keeping the door closed off as best he could, but alas, Brad found his opening and got the final overtake of the race as he went on to finish the race as the overall winner, carrying the chequered flag for his division. I was told that Brad will be competing in the Pro-division next season, where I believe he will fare quite well.
The series that fascinated me most over the course of the Super Series weekend was the Sidecars. I had never seen them before, and knew nothing about the type of racing as a whole. The only way I can describe it is to think of bobsled, but instead of being inside the monocoque of the sled, the co-rider, or “monkey” climbs all over the rig. Think of the co-rider as a moving ballast, using their body to throw the balance of the rig to one side or the other, giving the rider more grip into each corner.
I was absolutely fascinated by the sight of the co-riders throwing themselves back and forth at such breakneck speeds. Although it was not until I spoke with CRCA marshall and retired sidecar monkey Mike Willis, that I learned just how intricate this more obscure form of motorsport is. He explained how the complicated throttle and shifter systems work, just how dangerous it can be, and even showed me a few photos of him leaning deep to the track surface in the high-speed turn two at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
When it comes to racing, I have no preference for where in the world, what time of day, and even what series it is, but now I can add “or how many wheels” to that list, or rather lack of criteria, for me to be a fan. I spent an entire weekend next to a racetrack, the smell of race fuel all around, a choir of engines creating perfect music, and the windblast of bikes screaming passed me at an arm’s length, and honestly, there is nowhere in the world I would have rather been. Having this opportunity to do what I love after a shortened season for international motorsport is something I will cherish for the rest of my media career. Thank you to every one of the event staff for keeping everything organized and safe, the CRCA Marshalls for volunteering their time to keep the riders and media safe, and to the riders, for putting on an excellent show.
I look forward to attending the Super Series events next year, whether I have my camera in my hands or I am sitting in the grandstands, I know I’ll enjoy it no matter what.
Article and Photography by Trent Flower