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BC racer wins on debut and becomes youngest sportbike winner of all time

For AJ Van Winkle, every year is an event to make history and break records.

The 17-year-old sport cyclist secured another place in the history books with his victory at the RAD Torque Raceway in Edmonton, AB last weekend (June 21-23).

The Chilliwack product made his debut in the Sportbike class, round three of this year’s Bridgestone Canadian Superbike Championship. Having moved up from the Pro Twins class, the young rider was considered an underdog before the weekend.

It was Van Winkle’s first time competing on his Suzuki GSXR600 sport bike, and also his first time on the Edmonton circuit. However, he quickly adapted to the new surroundings, riding to fifth place in the first practice session of the weekend on a bike that has 15 horsepower less than others in the class.

He maintained this form, qualifying in the top three in his first-ever Sport Bike qualifying – just four tenths slower than first-placed Elliot Vieira – before finishing fifth in his first race to secure his first championship points.

Unlike the top Superbike class, the second race of the Sportbike races is held in the same qualifying order as the first. Van Winkle again started Sunday’s race from the second row before fighting his way to the front and never letting up again.

Van Winkle won the 18-lap race by four seconds, making him the youngest rider ever to win a sportbike race. With the win, he also becomes one of only two riders in the history of the class to win in their second race.

“Last year was my first time racing in a professional class and I learned a lot from it, and I learned that things can change very quickly on the track,” Van Winkle said after his race win. “So I went into this race ready to do my best, keep pushing and be grateful for this incredible opportunity.”

Van Winkle made his professional debut last year in the Pro Twins class, where he took the title and became the youngest champion in Bridgestone Canadian Superbike Championship history. He admitted he entered this year’s series with tempered expectations after that big step, but vowed to approach each race with the same enthusiasm as always.

The impressive start to his professional career comes just three years after he became the youngest racer ever to be awarded a racing license from the Westwood Motorcycle Racing Club, before gaining his expert level racing license just a year later.

With the win, Van Winkle collected a total of 38 points over the weekend, putting him in eighth place in the championship standings. The 17-year-old is already concentrating on the next round.

“I’m excited,” Van Winkle said. “Every time I’m on the track with these other great drivers, I learn and grow and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season brings.”

The series now heads to the East Coast, with round four of the championship being held July 12-14 at Atlantic Motorsport Park in Mill Village, NS.

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