In heavy snow with limited visibility, two stunning charges from racers who started deep in the pack, overcame the conditions, the altitude and a bunch of talented racers was the highlight of the night. One made it all the way to second place in Pro Lite; the other ran away with the Pro Open final.
The race was technically round three of the Amsoil Championship Snocross series, held in the ever-so-aptly named Winter Park, Colorado, on Friday night, given the fact that the racing action was essentially held during a blizzard. Local forecasters are calling for 14-20 inches of snow before the weather system moves out tomorrow, and strong wind further complicated things.
Add in the fact that most of these racers are flatland natives racing at more than 8,500 feet in altitude, and you have the makings of a sketchy situation.
That led to some odd starts and a lot of passing late in the races, but in the end Tucker Hibbert went from a tenth-place start to a waving checkered flag on his Arctic Cat in the Pro Open final, while Finnish racer Aki Pihlaja on a Ski-Doo narrowly held off a similarly late-starting-but-hard-charging Jake Angove in Pro-Lite.
Racing continues Saturday in Colorado. Make sure to get your picks in for the fantasy Snowmobile Racing Challenge game early Saturday to compete for this week’s prize package. Give it a try by clicking here.
Pro Open To Hibbert
For the second straight event, Corin Todd swept his way through his heat races on his Leighton Motorsports Polaris and set himself up as a top qualifier for the final, but this time he was matched by snocross superstar Tucker Hibbert, who won the other two qualifying heats. However, with the inverted start rule implemented last year, both of those racers would get last picks for starting positions on the 10-position front row in the final, and that would play a part in the final. For a while.
When the green lights flashed, it was Petter Narsa who surged to the front on his Polaris, with first-round winner Lincoln Lemieux on his flap, followed by Justin Broberg and Tim Tremblay. Hibbert and Todd, meanwhile, got bounced around and caught in a big washout in the first turn – Todd came out of it in seventh, Hibbert in 10th.
Tremblay moved past Broberg on lap two and then past his teammate Lemeiux on lap three and set his sights on the leader. After three laps in the 12-lap final, it was Narsa, Tremblay and Lemieux, followed by Kody Kamm, Trevor Leighton, Kyle Pallin and then Hibbert in eight. Next came Todd, Broberg, Logan Christian, Elias Ishoel, Colby Crapo, Ryan Springer, Brett Nastala and Andrew Carlson.
Tremblay immediately started pressuring Narsa for the top spot, trying inside and outside lines, but got the top spot with a hard charge down the big ski hill as the racers completed lap five. In the time Tremblay was battling Narsa, however, Hibbert was making short work of everybody else. He moved past Pallin and Leighton on lap four, then past Lemieux and Kamm on lap 5.
It took Hibbert a few laps to get past Narsa, but once in second he closed on Tremblay immediately and passed for the lead in the same way that Tremblay had previously claimed the top spot – with a big charge on the downhill past the start/finish line.
And, once in the lead, Hibbert checked out, pulling away to a 9.4-second margin of victory ahead of Tremblay.
While most eyes were on the front of the pack, Pro Open rookie Elias Ishoel was making his own charge through the pack after a slow start. Other riders seemed to be slowing due to the conditions and the effects of the altitude, but Ishoel was not fading at all. He moved all the way up to fourth at the checkered flag behind Kamm. Narsa held on for fifth and was followed by Pallin, Lemieux, Broberg, Christian and Leighton in the top 10. In order, Nastala, Crapo, Carlson, Todd and Springer rounded out the field.
After the race, when interviewed over the ISOC webcast, Hibbert explained his charge.
“It was tough, especially the first lap,” Hibbert said. “I got buried on the start and was riding completely blind going up the hill. I was hitting stuff and bouncing off. But I just put my head down and focused. I had some really good lines picked out and I was able to take them most of the time, which was a good thing for me. I just hammered down – I didn’t know who was out front, I thought there were some other guys further out, but then I saw No. 1 on the pit board and I was stoked.”
Tremblay suffered from a rare malady that could have been influenced by the altitude.
“I thought I was pretty good and then I started to get really tight and started to get arm pump – which is something that never happens to me. I was trying to hold on, but when [Hibbert] tried to get by me I just couldn’t hold on [to the lead] any more, so I just tried to get second place. It’s too bad, I felt like I had it but then I just got really tight.”
For Kamm, it was an important podium position after finishing fifth in Duluth three weeks earlier.
“I kind of had not the best jump off the start, so I had to let off around the first turn, and half the people around me just went right off the turn,” Kamm said. “I just watched that and then went pretty slow up the hill because I couldn’t see anything…. I just took a breather and rode my own race.”
Pro Lite To The Finn
When Boss Racing announced that it had signed something name Aki Pihlaja over the summer, the first reaction by many in the racing community was a puzzled look, followed by a one-word question: “Who?”
The racer from Rovaniemi, Finland, is quickly naming a name for himself in the Pro Lite division, however, following his podium finish in Duluth three weeks ago with a victory in Pro Lite on Friday night.
It started with two impressive heat victories that led to him being the No. 1 qualifier for the Pro Lite final on his No. 128 Ski-Doo. Then in the final, he grabbed the top spot early in the race and was never seriously challenged. He race with smooth precision on the rough track and earned his first victory in North America.
From about the mid-point of the race, however, Pihlaja didn’t look like the fastest sled on the track. That honor was taken by Jake Angove on the No. 177 Polaris. The Pro Lite winner at Duluth, Angove got forced off the track and, like Hibbert in the later Pro Open race, he would start out in about 10th position.
With the Pro Lite final only being eight laps, however, Angove had to make his passes quickly, and he did just that. By lap four, he was fourth behind Pihlaja, Travis Kern and Jacob Yurk and just ahead of his teammate, Nick Lorenz.
Angove moved up to third the next lap and then to second after lap seven and the white flag but he ran out of time in his pursuit of Pihlaja. Kern finished third on his Factory Arctic Cat sled, followed by RJ Roy, Lorenz, Mx Taillefer, Kevin Wallenstein and Marcus Ogemar Hellgren.
The post-race interview with Pihlaja after the race was short due to his limited English, though he credited some of his improved performance since the opener at Duluth as “getting used to my Ski-Doo.”
Angove was all smiles after the race.
“That right there just made a whole summer of training worth it,” Angove said. “With the elevation up here, it’s crazy how much it affects your body.”
Racing continues Saturday with a full program of racing.