Inside Motorcycles vintage race contributor Dave Minnett (Rockwood, ON), a regular competitor with the Vintage Road Racing Association (VRRA), stepped into the world of modern machinery when he competed as a guest media rider in the Kawasaki Ninja 300 Race Series doubleheader during the season-ending Canadian Superbike Championship double round at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on the weekend of August 19-21.
After missing the Friday morning practice session, Minnett stepped in for the second session and slowly improved his lap times down to a best 1:47.07, sixth-best in the session. The other media reps in attendance were JP Schroeder, riding for CMG Online, and Jacob Black of Autotrader.ca. These two outlets had quite a good-natured online spitting match building up to the race weekend (thanks to CMG editor Mark Richardson), but after day one, Schroeder was the fastest of the journalists at 1:45.74, almost a second and a half ahead of Minnett. Black, whose pride far outmatches his motorcycle race experience, qualified 11th.
While the guest riders were on track to spread the word about the affordable Ninja 300 spec class to the public, there was a class full of real racers taking priority at the legendary track formerly known as Mosport. On that note, Windsor, NS teenager Brandon Pemberton was the fastest in practice with a 1:43.31.
Green machines head off after the lights drop in Saturday's race. IM rider Minnett qualified fifth.
Minnett improved to a 1:46.4 in Saturday morning's lone qualifying session, quickest of the journalists and good enough for fifth overall on the grid. Pemberton improved his time to a 1:43.04 but was outpaced by fellow teen Jared Walker (Oakville, ON), who set a new track record at 1:42.30. Eric Quintin (Ile Perot, QC) took third at 1:44.01.
During Saturday's official race (the first of two scheduled for the weekend), Minnett got a mediocre start but managed to remain in the top five for the majority of the race. He and Dartmouth, NS rider Patrick Pelletier lost ground to the top three of Walker, Pemberton and Quintin early on, but used the draft to make time back up on Quintin, and by the closing laps had caught up to the Quebec rider. After a smart pass in turn 8, Minnett held Quintin off by 0.090 seconds to earn third place, having run a best lap of 1:43.92, his best lap of the weekend. Walker reset his own track record to 1:42.16 and took the win four seconds ahead of Pemberton.
He may have crossed the line more than 20 seconds after winner Walker, but third place was as good as a victory for the humble but focused Minnett.
"Coming in, I said I would be happy with a top ten," said Minnett after the race. "Of course that was an outright lie, because even second place is only first loser, and we all want the top spot. The reality is that I had no idea what the competition was and whether or not I could make it to the top 5. Let's just say it was a very nice surprise to get there."
CMG Online's JP Schroeder finished in sixth, while Black finished tenth. Due to his "guest" status Minnett wasn't given the third place trophy, which went to Quintin.
Minnett stalks Eric Quintin and Patrick Pelletier exiting turn 3. He would eventually surpass both riders to take third place on Saturday.
On Sunday Minnett backed up his third-place finish the day before with a solid fifth while Walker, Pemberton and Quintin took the three podium spots, respectively. The race was red-flagged on lap seven when Autotrader.ca's Black lost control coming out of turn 10 and blasted into some hay bales at a high rate of speed. Black received a few bruises and cuts from the crash but was seen walking around trackside shortly after. CMG's Schroeder wound up sixth, giving Minnett a sweep of the media portion of the Ninja 300 Race Series doubleheader.
Minnett, a veteran of the track but mostly on vintage machinery, was impressed by the track capabilities of the Kawasaki Ninja 300. "It's quite impressive, really. Once the suspension was set for my weight (thanks John Sharrard), it handled quite well. There was still room for further development though, as I felt it wouldn't turn in as quick as I liked. But the Dunlop tires are surprisingly good and I never felt I was outriding them. After a couple of brisk warm-up laps to get some heat into them, they were always confidence-inspiring. The engine is surprisingly good for it's size and pulls very smoothly all the way to redline. The power shift feature is so convenient, especially when you want to maintain streamlining in the tucked position - no gear shift wrangling required!"
As far as commenting on the series itself, Minnett was even more impressed than he expected at the fun and competitiveness of the Kawasaki-only spec class. "Wow, what an awesome little machine and series to go with it!" said a smiling Minnett post-race. "This is a relatively low cost way to go racing. A set of tires will last two weekends, maybe more... the fuel is cheap, and because it's a spec class, the fun factor is just as high as on something far more expensive to maintain. Because it has modest power, the only way to decrease lap times is to stay off the brakes and stay on the throttle. I'm sure that a weekend on the baby Ninja has improved my cornering skills - just because there is no other way to make it go faster.
"Who knew 38 hp could be this much fun!"
Minnett was impressed by the track capabilities of the Ninja 300 and the fun competition the spec class offers.
The Kawasaki Ninja 300 Race Series continues in 2017 in conjunction with the Mopar Canadian Superbike Championship national tour. For full results and final points standings, visit www.csbk.ca. For more on the Ninja 300 Race Series, visit www.kawasakiracing.ca