Kody Kamm started the 2017-18 snowmobile snocross season Friday night right where he ended the 2016-17 season last March: By sprinting away to the waving checkered flag and collecting the big coin.
Yes, there was a lot that was different – including the venue (Duluth, Minnesota, vs. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin), the sleds (stock based Pro-class sleds vs. last year’s Pro Open mods) and the format of the race (an Amsoil Dominator, non-points, winner-take-all showcase event vs. a regular season final.) Heck, even Kamm’s number was different – he opted for the No. 1 after racing with the No. 53 in recent years.
In the end, however, the curly-haired Polaris rider from Kenosha, Wisconsin, fought off a very aggressive charge by snocross superstar Tucker Hibbert to win a $10,000 first-place check from sponsoring Amsoil.
Kamm’s victory capped a full day of racing at the host Spirit Mountain Ski Hill in Duluth, which has hosted the season-opener for the past 26 years on Thanksgiving weekend, now on the ISOC Amsoil Championship Snocross series. Other than the Dominator final, Friday was largely about the undercard, with finals run in a handful of important classes, including Pro 30+ and Pro-Am Women. It was also the debut of new race sleds from Arctic Cat, Polaris and Ski-Doo, and many folks were interesting in seeing which brand had the early edge. (It also provided a preview for people wanting to make picks in the fantasy Snowmobile Racing Challenge game here on SnowGoer.com — click through to play, it’s easy, free and fun.)
The Pro and Pro-Lite competitors will largely take center stage for the rest of the weekend, with finals Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
Kamm, Hibbert And Todd Claw Toward Final
The unique Amsoil Dominator race has become quite a tradition at the season-opening race. The top 16 racers are seeded into brackets through qualifying heats and byes earned from last year’s top points getters. The racers are then pitted off against one another in one-on-one, 2.5-lap challenges, with the winner advancing and the loser sent to his trailer.
The seeding events were particularly interesting this year because of all of the Pro-Lite competitors who participated – in the past, these racers would have had a significant machine disadvantage, as the Pro Open sleds were more powerful, highly modified machines. But with new rules for 2017-18, the two classes essentially run the same snowmobiles, so a semi-pro/Pro-Lite racer could, in theory, bump up to challenge the top Pro class racers at any time. And a non-points, big dollar event like this provided a perfect draw.
A handful of Pro-Lite guys actually made it into the sweet 16 bracket but the first round races went to the favorites, with top seed Kody Kamm dispatching David Joanis; No. 2 seed Tucker Hibbert beating Travis Kern; No. 3 qualifier Tim Tremblay advancing with a victory over Travis Muller and No. 4 qualifier Lincoln Lemieux eliminating RJ Roy. Also advancing out of round 1 were Petter Narsa, Corin Todd and Kyle Pallin; the only surprise in the great eight was semi-pro Martin Moland, who defeated Scandinavian racer Nisse Kjellstrom to advance.
After a break for some other races, the quarter finals started predictably when the Pro sleds returned to the track, with Kamm lining up against Moland and storming away to an easy victory.
Then things got slightly twisted when Tremblay faced Todd in the second quarterfinal. Racing as an independent Polaris racers this year, Todd got the surprising early lead on the former Dominator winner and points champ, and when Tremblay was making a charge the second time down the hill, his Scheuring Speeds Sports Ski-Doo got squirely beneath him, the right ski seemed to dig in where Tremblay wanted to go left and the sled violently pitched the Quebec racer. The victory thus went to Todd.
Next up, Tremblay’s teammate Lemieux faced the X Games champ Narsa, and the first lap was tight, but Lemieux opened a big gap on the second lap and advanced with a 2.5-second victory. That was followed by Hibbert’s redemption run, as he fought off an early challenge from Palin to eventually storm away to a big victory over the man who eliminated him from this competition one year earlier. HIbbert also ran the fastest lap of anybody in any of the semi finals at 27.9 seconds, and he also looked the fastest to the naked eye.
The Run To The Big Check
The field was now down to four racers. The winners of the two semi finals would advance to the final and a third racer – as determined by a LCQ heat between the two who lost the semi finals – would also get into the final, though he would start some distance behind the other two.
Kamm again advanced in the first semifinal, using a superior launch on the downhill to take an early lead and then building upon that lead throughout the race as Lemieux searched for fast lines behind him. The margin of victory was 2.6 seconds.
Then Hibbert similarly launched hard off of the starting line in his semi against Todd and then really pulled away on the first uphill. It wasn’t close in the end – Hibbert advanced with a huge 4.8-second victory. And, once again, Hibbert was the only racer in the semi finals to run a sub 28-second lap, which would normally make him the favorite. However, Kamm would get his choice of positions on the starting line, and so far virtually every racer who had won had done so from a far outside starting position.
Before those two could face off, though, Todd beat Lemieux in the LCQ race – he would start behind Kamm and Hibbert in the final, which was a definitely disadvantage, but this race has been won from that position before.
As predicted, Kamm chose a far outside position on the starting line while Hibbert started near the center. When the starting light flashed green Hibbert grabbed the early lead on his Cat but Kamm was right there with him, and at the bottom of the hill the two swapped spots, with Kamm darting toward the inside and Hibbert drifting toward the outside in the first highly banked turn. Kamm slid right up next to Hibbert and grabbed the lead on the exit but Hibbert stayed on Kamm’s snowflap, then charged toward the leader using a tight line back up at the top of the hill. They flew around the course, with at one point Hibbert bouncing off of Kamm as both competitors charged for the big paycheck. Todd was close behind and looking to take advantage if the front two took each other out.
Then, the second time up the hill, Hibbert appeared to be trying to change lines, switching from a far inside lane to one right behind Kamm, when his sled dug hard into a rut and torque the sport’s longtime best racer hard to the right and out of control. Whether Hibbert was pitched off of his sled or merely let go when he saw that he was headed toward the no-man’s-land off the edge of the course is unclear, but Tucker was soon on the ground as his sled went over a berm and toward Lake Superior.
Kamm sped away to a big win, with Todd 2.870 seconds back in second and Hibbert collecting his sled and his thoughts before driving back to his truck.
Kamm has always come across as a rather confident young man, and last year’s points championship seems to have enhanced that even further.
“That was definitely a tough two-lap race, with lots of bumping and banging, I’m pretty sure I felt Tucker’s ski on my back for a whole straight away one time,” Kamm said with a grin when interviewed after the race on the ISOC webcast, “but I managed to stay smooth and stay ahead of him, and landed here.”
What does it mean in the big picture?
“I finished really strong last year and starting off the season with a win is awesome, but this race here doesn’t really mean anything [in the chase for the championship], so hopefully I can do this tomorrow and Sunday,” Kamm said.
In the weekend’s first final with “Pro” in the title, Arctic Cat engineer and veteran racer Wes Selby held off a strong challenge from Canadian veteran Iain Hayden to claim victory in the Pro-Am Plus 30 class. Hayden was pushing hard toward Selby late in the race, but an unfortunately placed yellow flag zone after another racer crashed seemed to spoil his mojo and Selby held on for the win. Matt Pichner, back after a severe injury last year, claimed third.
Sweden’s Elina Ohman was the class of the Pro Am Women’s class on her pinkish-purple Polaris, as she narrowly beat Quebec’s Megan Brodeur. Wisconsin racer Jakki Farmer waded through the crowded class to claim third.
Ryley Bester was the bestest of the Sport class racers.