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Szoke closes in on titles; crash sidelines unlucky Welsh

SHUBENACADIE, N.S. -- Jordan Szoke moved a step closer to a record fourth straight Parts Canada Superbike Championship with a runner-up finish in the penultimate round of the series at Atlantic Motorsport Park on Sunday.

The Brantford, Ont. racer led the opening lap of the 22-lap race before settling into a comfortable second place on his Canadian Kawasaki Motors Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R. He now has 296 points and takes a 14-point lead in the Parts Canada Superbike standings to the final race at Shannonville Motorsport Park in Shannonville, Ont. Sept. 4-6. A race win is worth 50 points.

Szoke, who is also trying to equal the all-time record of six Canadian Superbike titles, had qualified second for the Superbike race in the Pirelli SuperPole session on Saturday. His lap at 1:06.975 missed pole position by just 0.047 secs. And he was one of only three riders to improve on his pre-qualifying time in the SuperPole run-off.

He also managed to get under the four-year-old outright motorcycle track record at AMP.

"I saw through the session how everybody wasn't really improving and I knew I could put in a good lap to get ahead," he explained. "But I didn't want to risk everything for one more point. The bike was a lot better than what we did but I wanted to keep a little in reserve and limit the chances I was taking."

The 30-year-old Szoke got the lead off the start but didn't put up too much of a fight when he gave up the top spot in turn two on the second lap.

"I wish I could have gone a little harder for the win," he said. "But this championship means so much to me. It's all I've been thinking about. Maybe I could have gone a lot harder, but I didn't want to do anything silly."

Szoke is in an almost identical situation in the Yoshimura Pro Sport Bike class. A second place finish at AMP leaves him with 300 points and a 16-point edge heading to the Shannonville finale. He is trying for a fourth straight title in that division as well.

On Sunday he was third off the start on the factory Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R but grabbed second place on lap four of the 18-lap race and was able to ease clear for a safe runner-up finish.

"It was an awesome race for us and we were able to protect our points lead," he said. "After I got into second place I noticed my gap to third was getting bigger and I thought I should calm down. I have to think about the championship and I want to save some energy for the Superbike race later."

Szoke had also qualified second in the Pro Sport Bike class, just 0.387 secs. off the top spot. He was one of only two racers to top the previous class record in qualifying.

"The bike is really good," he said after the session. "Every time out it gets a little better and we're faster than we were going here last year."

While Szoke consolidated his position at the top of the table in both Pro classes, his young teammate Alex Welsh saw his Maritime weekend come to an early end when he suffered a big crash near the end of Saturday morning's Yoshimura Pro Sport Bike practice session.

The 21-year-old from Uxbridge, Ont. suffered a big highside exiting turn three on his final lap of the session. He was taken to hospital with hip and back pain, and although initial x-rays revealed no broken bones he was badly bruised and elected not to race on Sunday.

"It's frustrating because we were coming off a couple of good rounds," said last year's winner of the HJC Pro Rookie of the Year award. "Nothing appears to be broken so I'll go home, get some physio and be ready for the final round at Shannonville.

"I guess I got on the gas pretty hard coming out of the corner. The back end got loose and that was it."

Welsh had come into the AMP weekend third in the Pro Sport Bike standings and fourth in Superbike points. He lost a position in the Sport Bike class, where he has 178 points and dropped to sixth in Superbike with 145 points.

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