Sport Bike Preview: MacKay the favourite once again despite plenty of challengers at SMP

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The 2022 Bridgestone Canadian Superbike Championship season will seem difficult to top in many classes, but perhaps none more so than the Liqui Moly Pro Sport Bike category. However, it appears the fun may just be starting in the middleweight class when they begin their 2023 charge at Shannonville Motorsport Park this weekend, May 18-21.

After a stretch of dominant one-man-effort seasons in the Sport Bike ranks, 2022 saw five different first-time winners and a stunning rookie champion in Trevor Dion, becoming the most nail-biting class in the paddock – and 2023 will likely be its encore.

Entering unfamiliar territory for most of the young field, a return to Shannonville and the start of the Bridgestone tire era will bring back fond memories for some and a strange new challenge for others.

No active rider in this group has ever won a Liqui Moly Pro Sport Bike race at SMP, with the last battle there having featured a hectic fight for the win that saw then-champion Tomas Casas take out future champion Sebastian Tremblay, opening the door for first time race winner and eventual title victor Will Hornblower.

Now with a vacant crown – Dion having graduated full-time to the Superbike class – the grid will want to separate themselves quickly and waste no time in establishing a favourite, though there may appear to be one already.

David MacKay will enter 2023 with another betting line in his favour, having been a title favourite in the previous handful of seasons and again falling painfully short by just eight points in 2022. However, his track record of success is not just limited to other tracks, bringing easily the most convincing resumé in his class to SMP.

Having finished third in 2018 and second the last time the series was there in 2019, the former serving as his first ever pro national podium, it’s safe to say MacKay will enjoy the return aboard his Snow City Cycle Kawasaki. His adjustment to the new Bridgestone tires hasn’t been as smooth as his rivals, but that is thus far the only thing preventing MacKay from being the slam-dunk favourite in at least the first two rounds.

Should he falter, however, there will be no shortage of competitors there to make him pay for it, and tops amongst them is a familiar face in Elliot Vieira. Fresh off an excellent Daytona 200 debut and having won the last race of 2022 to finish third overall, it would be easy to put all the momentum in the Guyanese stars favour.

The question mark surrounding Vieira will instead be his new machine, having switched from his long-time Yamaha partnership to the GP Bikes Ducati program for 2023, with the class now opening up the restrictions to include the V2 Panigale. His transition hasn’t been seamless, but the fourth-place finisher from SMP in 2019 should be a safe bet for at least a podium as he works out the kinks, if not a challenge for the win.

Championship frontrunner Elliot Vieira (officially #33, but pictured here with #21) will pilot a new GP Bikes Ducati in 2023, seen here at the Winter Test in March. Photo credit: Rob O’Brien / CSBK.

The biggest wildcard may be the sudden emergence of Matt Simpson, having stolen the spotlight in his home round at CTMP with a shocking race one victory that helped him finish fourth in the overall standings. The Blackstock Motorsports Yamaha rider has loved the switch to Bridgestone rubber, consistently running in the top-three both at the Winter Test and the recent Super Series regional opener.

Another storyline to follow will be the anticipated return of Connor Campbell, a dark horse championship threat in 2022 that saw his season cut short by a terrifying crash on the east coast. Now fully healthy, the B&T MacFarlane/Kubota Kawasaki rider will look to recapture the momentum he had early last season, though he will still be making his pro debut at SMP (finishing fifth in Amateur Sport Bike in 2019).

As for the new dark horse taking his place, the mantle appeared to be going to Vincent Levillain after his breakthrough weekend in the Winter Test, topping the timesheets out of nowhere aboard his SpeedFactory67 Kawasaki.

However, a heroic recent performance from Brad Macrae at the Super Series regional has put his name into the ring of dark horse threats, the local rider qualifying second to MacKay aboard his Colron Excavating Yamaha before winning race one on Saturday.

Despite the faster pace of the names above, the return after four years away from SMP will likely play largely on experience, and no one will have more than veteran Louie Raffa around this circuit. His switch to a Mohawk Gas Bar Ducati has thus far proved to be a tough adjustment, but the long-time Honda rider has consistently proved himself at Shannonville before, finishing fifth in both 2017 and 2018 as well as fourth in 2016.

Contrasting that experience will be the large crop of competitive rookies debuting in 2023, led by graduating Scorpion EXO Amateur Sport Bike champion Paul Etienne Courtois. The Ironhold Kawasaki rider – like all his fellow graduates – has never raced nationally at SMP, but proved his consistency is unmatched after scoring a podium in every race last season.

His closest rival from a year ago will also be making the step up, however, with Alex Michel piloting his own SpeedFactory67 Kawasaki after winning the last race of the season at CTMP, finishing 12 points shy of the title to Courtois.

Other rookies to watch include Lean Angle Motorsports Ducati rider Nathan Playford, who went fourth-fastest in the class at the Winter Test, or the pair of Grand Bend specialists in Sebastian Hothaza (KSR Yamaha) and Zoltan Frast (Eurorace Kawasaki).

Notably joining the Liqui Moly Pro Sport Bike class on-track will also be the debut of the all-new Pro Twins class, which will line up behind the main grid and score separately as the category develops.

The full Twins breakdown can be found in the support class preview, where former top pro Jeff Williams will look to threaten the bigger-displacement machines ahead of him at his home track.

The full schedule for this weekend’s Liqui Moly Pro Sport Bike action – as well as the feature GP Bikes Pro Superbike class and the support classes – can be found on the series official website.

For more information on the Bridgestone Canadian Superbike Championship, visit www.csbk.ca.

Main picture: David MacKay (#82) will hope to avenge his narrow title loss from 2022, entering 2023 as the favourite aboard his Snow City Cycle Kawasaki. Photo credit: Rob O’Brien / CSBK.

Source: Bridgestone Canadian Superbike Championship

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