For the past several years, the season-opening snocross provides a preview for people in two different camps who are looking for two markedly different things.
In one group is a gang of fans who love to see the greatness of Tucker Hibbert, and hope every year that their hero continues his unprecedently domination of a facet of snowmobile racing. In another camp, though, is a large group of fans who want to see more competitive racing – they want to see somebody or some bodies step up to challenge Hibbert and make the snocross final results more dynamic.
Saturday’s first full day of points racing provided something for each group. No, Hibbert didn’t win – instead Vermont native Lincoln Lemieux and his Scheuring Speed Sports Ski-Doo led from the flash of the green starting light to the waving of the checkered flag on a rough track at Duluth, Minnesota’s Spirit Mountain, annual host of the ISOC Amsoil Championship Snocross series first race weekend on Thanksgiving weekend.
Hibbert looked completely beatable in his heats, but in the final he ended up third, and that was after coming off of his sled once. No, he doesn’t look past his prime! The hero of Friday night’s specialty race, Elias Ishoel, was never a factor and finished dead last in the final after crashing.
The Pro Lite opening final, meanwhile, was claimed by Jake Angove on a Polaris. Racing was scheduled to continue Sunday in Duluth but the event was fogged-out. If you’re a racing fan, though, you can make picks for the next event in the fantasy Snowmobile Racing Challenge game using this link: Remember, it’s easy, free and fun.
After two rounds of heat races, the surprising Corin Todd was the No. 1 qualifier going into the final under the Saturday night lights on his Polaris, with Kody Kamm, back from injury, slotting in as the No. 2 qualifier, also on a Polaris. However, with the inverted start initiated last year to try to even the field a little bit after years of Tucker Hibbert heat and final domination, neither of them would get their first choice in starting position. In an odd twist of fate, that right would go to Hibbert, who qualified 9th after a couple of rough heat races Saturday.
When the starting lights flashed green, however, it was a sled out of the middle of the pack that launched the hardest – the No. 13 Ski-Doo of Lincoln Lemieux. He surged into the lead with Hibbert, Ross Martin and Kyle Pallin directly behind. After a bit of a shakeout on the first lap, they crossed the start/finish line the second time with Lemieux leading, then Pallin, Hibbert, Martin, Kamm, Tim Tremblay, Todd, David Joanis, Petter Narsa and last-chance qualifier winner Adam Renheim.
By lap three Lemieux was already opening a gap of the field – it was suddenly to 2.1 seconds back to second, then grew to 4.5 seconds after lap 4. Behind him there wasn’t a lot of passing, but what there was was impactful. First Hibbert closed up on Pallin’s snowflap and was pressuring the friendly Yooper hard, but on lap 8 as Hibbert charged on an inside line going into a tight turn, Pallin moved to that inside line himself, and Hibbert’s ski hit the back of Pallin’s tunnel, causing Hibbert to tip over. Luckily for Hibbert, he stayed with the sled and, while he had to tip it back to its skis and track, the tether cord never became uphooked so the engine kept running and he lost little distance on the track. He did, though, lose third place to Tremblay.
It took Tremblay roughly two laps to work past Pallin into second, then Tremblay took off after his teammate Lemieux, who to this point was rather unchallenged.
Tremblay made two separate runs at Lemieux, the most impressive on the penultimate lap – pulling almost beside the Vermont driver a couple of times in and coming out of turns, but Lemieux always had an answer. Behind them, Hibbert worked his way past the fading Pallin and tried to pressure Tremblay.
Lemieux fought off the challenges, though, and took home an impressive victory by .729 seconds over Tremblay, with Hibbert 4.4 seconds back in third, and Pallin another 6.6 seconds later in forth. Kamm, Martin, Narsa, Logan Christian, Joanis and Renheim wrapped up the top 10, with Justin Broberg, Andrew Carlson, Corey Watkinson, Todd and Ishoel wrapping up the field.
After taking the checkered flag, Lemieux didn’t explode in celebration – instead, his body language stated that he was more relieved than elated.
“I just kept trying to run my own race,” Lemieux said on a post-race interview over the P.A. system. “Toward the end I was getting really tired, which I was surprised, because usually I like the longer races. But today I was happy [when] it was over. For me to finish first and Tim second, that’s what we always talk about wanting to do, and today we finally did it.”
Tremblay agreed with that sentiment in his post-race interview.
“It was a pretty good race for us. Before running the final, we said it would be so nice to get [first] and second, and that’s what we got tonight so I’m really happy with that,” Tremblay said. “I got an OK start – I think I was fourth or fifth – and worked my way up. It was so hard to see, I was wiping my goggles with my glove and I almost came off on the white flag lap. I was trying hard to pass Lincoln while staying clean – I did not want to take us both out.”
Hibbert got on the podium box, but not surprisingly he was looking for more.
“Not very much was working the way I wanted it to today,” Hibbert said. “I want to be up front, I want to win races, that’s what I like to do and we’re going to work and try to beat these guys. But they were riding good – hats off to Lincoln and Tim both for riding really good all day.”
While Scheuring Speed Sports teammates took the top two spots on the podium in Pro Open, the race that directly preceded that night-closing final was the Pro Lite final, and it also saw two teammates take two spots on the celebratory stand.
Wisconsinite Jake Angove was the No. 1 qualifier on the No. 177 Polaris after winning both of his heat races. He didn’t start out front in the final, though – it was Travis Kern on the No. 201 Arctic Cat who got the holeshot and charged off into the lead off of the start.
It didn’t take long for Angove to move to the front. By the time the racers climbed the backstretch hill the first time, he shoved his Jack Link’s sponsored sled out front with Kern on his heels followed by first-time North American snocross racer Aki Pihlaja slotting into third.
Angove opened a relatively big lead at first but then saw much of it evaporate once the crowd behind him sorted itself out. The Finish racer Pihlaja got past Kern and closed on Angove, and first-year Pro Lite racer Nick Lorentz – a teammate with Angove on the Judnick Racing Team – quickly moved to third. For a couple of laps the three race in a rather tight bunc but then Angove started to pull away again as the two sleds following him battled for second. He soon claimed that spot.
At the half-way point in the 12-lap final, it was Angove, then Lorentz and Pihlaja followed by James Johnstad, Maxime Taillefer, Kern, Marcus Ogemar Hellgren, Cole Cottew, Danny Poirier and Kevin Wallenstein in the top 10. In the remaining laps Pihlaja made several runs at Lorentz in second and finally made one stick on the white flag lap – claiming second place in his North American debut, with Lorentz third in his Pro Lite debut. Johnstad held fourth but Ogemar Hellgren moved up to fifth, with Kern sixth, then Wallenstein, Zak Mason, Taillefer and Cottew.
“Last year at Duluth I didn’t even make this final and still ended up doing pretty good, so I’m getting off to this start, I think it’s going to be a huge help,” Angove said. “It’s been the best day of racing I’ve ever had. There aren’t any words to describe it, I guess.”
Those competing against Pihlaja might be nervous about what this kid has in store, and he said after the racing, “This is my fried time on a sled in the U.S., and I feel pretty good now.”
For Lorentz, the step to from being the Sport champion to racing in Pro Lite meant new competition, but he got to stay with the same stock 600-style sled, and that seemed to help.
“I feel right at home, just like I was last year,” Lorentz said. “I had a good feeling [before the final]. The sled was working awesome all day, everything was going good.
the U.S., I feel pretty good now.