Honda Canada Racing Presents The Monday Gate Drop

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Good day and welcome to the final Honda Canada Racing Monday Gate of the month of July. I’m not sure where the summer of 2017 has gone, but I for one sure hope it slows down. The Honda Canada GDR Fox Racing Team just came off a solid day at Round 8 of the Rockstar Energy Drink MX Nationals in Moncton, NB. Riverglade MX Park is a always such a gracious host to the series and the Honda riders love racing at this famous track. We want to thank Honda Canada for their continued support of this Monday Gate Drop, as well our sport in general. 

As I mentioned above, it’s not just the summer that is moving by fast, but with it is the 2017 CMRC Pro Series. It really does seem like just yesterday that we were sitting in Kamloops, BC waiting for the gate to drop on Round 1. Here we are now with just two weekends remaining, and just like I’ve predicted all summer, both the MX1 and MX2 championships are still up for grabs. Points leaders Shawn Maffenbeier and Matt Goerke are both in control of their respective classes, although a bad moto in the next two weekends could change everything. Both of these riders have been on a tear all summer long, and even though they’ve both had some setbacks, you have to think that if they can get through this weekend in Quebec without any major problems, the finish line and the grand prize will be near. What a difference a year makes. Last year it was all orange, and this year it is obviously all blue at the front.

The Riverglade track was in fine form for Round 8 of the 2017 Rockstar Energy Drink MX Nationals. Photo by James Lissimore

My day at Round 8 consisted of a few new duties that were out of my usual norm at the race track. For a story that will appear in the next issue of MXP Magazine, on Sunday I was the Assistant Team Manager for the Honda Canada GDR Fox Racing Team. We actually came up with this idea at Round 2 in Prince George, but it took some time to arrange and figure out the perfect weekend to do it. Thankfully, Derek Schuster was fully on board with the idea and we decided to do this weekend in Moncton. Now, I don’t want to give away too many of the cool details that I’m going to write about in this story, but I will say that from the team dinner on Saturday evening, to cutting up ingredients to put in the lunchtime salad, to helping team riders Dylan Wright and Colton Facciotti with their gate picks, the entire experience was amazing. I guess really, that much like the job I do know, being part of a team is the next best thing to actually racing the nationals, and since those days are long gone, I’m sure you can imagine how cool this was.

My first duty of the day as Assistant Team Manager with the GDR Fox Honda Team was to cut some ingredients for a salad.

I also think it was cool that we got to do this at the famous Riverglade MX Park, located about 15 minutes from Moncton, NB. This track has been around longer than I can remember, and back in 1990, it was actually my second ever pro national. In 1990, the national series began at RJ Motosport Park in Barrie, ON, and then the next week the series moved east to Riverglade. However, unlike today, back in those days some of the nationals would have an AX take place on the Friday night in a nearby arena. The thought of doing this now would be absolutely unheard of, but in 1990, it was normal. So there my Dad and I were racing the Moncton AX on the Friday night with Ross Pederson, Carl Vaillancourt and all of the series regulars. Then on Sunday it was off to Riverglade for the outdoor national. As I walked around the paddock yesterday I can still remember my Dad and I parked for the day. It’s definitely hard to believe that it’s been 27 years gone by. That day I went 4-4 in the 250 class after moto long battles with Jeff Surwall. With Pederson winning, Vaillancourt finishing in second and Al Dyck rounding out the top three, I thought I had a great day. Unfortunately, two weeks later I crashed at a local race in Ontario, broke my leg and would have to sit out for the next four months. Anyway, thoughts of that special day were running through my mind all day as I helped out the GDR Honda Team. By the way, I cut the cucumbers up to perfection, so that was the good news. The bad news was that both Honda riders did not have great days at Round 8, so I think I’m fired after just one day on the job. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

After winning both motos on Sunday, Shawn Maffenbeier is well on his way to winning his very first National championship. Photo by James Lissimore

With a capacity crowd filling up the paddock and the sidelines of the track, the racing at Round 8 definitely wasn’t the most exciting of the series, but it was still pretty darn good. With drought conditions this summer in the Moncton area, water has been at a premium for everyone, and Riverglade MX Park was no exception. So, with a full amateur day on Saturday and then the pro national on Sunday, making sure they had enough water to keep the track moist was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. In the end, the track crew, led by Larry Northrup, did a fantastic job all day long. I’m sure the riders would’ve liked it to be a tad rougher, but in order to keep the track wet, the crew had to do almost a full track groom before each moto. It was not ideal for the top riders of the series, but for this weekend it worked and everyone went home safe. One rider who almost didn’t go home in one piece was Huber Racing’s Nathan Bles. During timed practice, Bles cased the double jump after the finish line and knocked himself silly. Instantly the practice session was red flagged while the medics attended to Bles. Thankfully, after a trip to the local hospital, Bles returned to the track in the afternoon, a little beat up, but okay nonetheless. Heal up quick Nathan and hopefully we’ll see you again real soon.

Even though Dillan Epstein and Mike Alessi pit beside each other and ride the same brand of bike, they’re definitely not teammates. Moments after a near miss, Alessi and Epstein came together and Epstein went down. Photo by James Lissimore

In the end, it was Shawn Maffenbeier and Christophe Pourcel who took the overall wins in their respective classes. But, it sure wasn’t without a fight from riders like Jess Pettis and Matt Goerke. Pettis was coming off a big win last weekend at Round 7, so he was beaming with confidence. He gave Maffenbeier everything he could handle in both motos but came up just short. In the MX1 class, Pourcel and Goerke traded moto wins and left Riverglade exactly as they came, separated by just 19 points. With a fairly smooth track greeting the riders in each moto, the racing was tight and the speeds were fast. Some of the teams’ data told them that they were reaching speeds of 110km/h down the back straight. With not much to separate the riders, passing was also difficult. Evidence of this was the short Alessi/ Epstein battle in the early laps of Moto 2. With Alessi out front and the visibly faster Epstein behind, these two Kawasaki riders played tit for tat for three laps before the two riders collided while Epstein was attempting to make a pass. This incident happened right in front of me and I thought it was a questionable move on Alessi’s part. Epstein was obviously faster, and if he was able to get by Alessi, I’m sure he would’ve pulled away. As the two riders went back and forth, Epstein made a move that I’m sure he thought would stick. However, Alessi would not give up and held his line on Epstein. Unfortunately, Alessi drifted wide heading into the following corner and the two Kawasaki riders came together, with Epstein getting the worst of it. I can appreciate Alessi not wanting to give up the lead, but at the same time I think he could’ve given Epstein a lot more room to still remain in the lead. It was definitely one of those racing incidents where one rider was going to be upset and the other would say it was just racing.

The trophies were very cool at Round 8 in Moncton. Photo by James Lissimore

With eight rounds now in the books, the series begins to move back west to the beautiful and popular Deschambault circuit in Quebec for Round 9. This round always produces great racing and I’m sure this weekend will be the same. With the ECAN taking place all of this week, the excitement will be high as top eastern amateurs battle on the sandy track. With no Walton TransCan anymore, this is the biggest race in the east for our top amateur riders, not to mention that racing in Quebec is always just a cool and unique experience. Also this week is the Loretta Lynn’s Amateur Championships down in hot and humid Tennessee. We have a host of fast Canadian riders (of all ages) down there in search of glory, so good luck to all of them.

That is it for me this week. I would like to once again thank the GDR Fox Honda Team for allowing me to be a part of the team for one day, and also to Andy White for being my taxi driver all weekend. Now it’s onto Round 9 and with it, the dog days of summer. I hope everyone has a fun week and good luck to everyone who is racing!!