Another major change at the top of the snowmobile oval racing was announced recently, this one at first causing more confusion than anything else due to some interesting naming. The ultimate goal is to make racing this coming winter more affordable and competitive.

               A month after the World Championship Derby Complex in Eagle River, Wisconsin, sent out word that the 2021 World Champion would be determined by the winner of the new Formula III class – but stating that in the upcoming winter the existing Champ 440 class would determine the winner of the sport’s biggest prize – the Champ class has been altered.

                Specifically, Monday’s press release stated that the new Pro Champ 440 class would be World Championship class, replacing the Champ 440 class that has been the top class since 1998. This nomenclature caught many oval racing aficionados as strange, considering that in common vernacular many people have called the existing top class “Pro Champ 440” for years to separate it from the Semi-Pro Champ 440 class. So what’s the difference between Champ 440 and Pro Champ 440 going forward? It’s mainly in the engine internals. Here’s how it all came together:

               In the International Snowmobile Racing (ISR) rules meeting earlier this year, a new Pro Champ 440 class was created at the request of the United States Snowmobile Association (USSA) sanctioning body that allowed drivers to keep their Champ chassis going forward but limited the amount of work that could be done to the engine internals. The class allows some cylinder head work, but otherwise the cylinders must remain in “stock” form – meaning no porting and other creative work. Twin pipes are allowed, however.

Also banned in the new rules were controversial traction control devices that some race teams have been utilizing to help on the starting line. Also gone are the hyper-expensive titanium studs and carbon fiber backer plates used in the tracks by top teams in recent years.  

The new Pro Champ 440 rules line up with the existing Pro-Lite 440 class, except in Pro-Lite there is a minimum combined weight for the driver and sled, whereas the Pro Champ 440 class won’t have that weight limit. The USSA circuit had already shifted the primary attention of its national Pro Star Cup series from Champ to Pro Champ for the upcoming season; today’s announcement merely aligned the World Championship race with the rules that will be in place for the rest of the USSA season.

ISR’s Todd Achterberg said most experts suggested the new rules package would drop the engine output of the top Champ sleds from about 130 to about 120 horsepower, adding a bit of a safety factor while also saving the teams some money and allowing more Pro-Lite drivers to “bump-up” into the World Championship class without a horsepower disadvantage. The sleds will still be fast, loud and snarling, though.

Craig Marchbank, the Derby Complex co-owner and race director, said he reached out to all of the Champ drivers he could get ahold of to gauge their opinion on the possible change, and most (but not all) were in favor of switching to the Pro Champ rules because they lined up with what they would be running the rest of the season.

“Otherwise, they’d have to potentially show up at the Derby this year with three sleds – a Pro Champ for the USSA Pro Star points series race, a Formula III they’re developing and a Champ 440 for the W.C.,” Marchbank said. Also, Marchbank estimated that, if existing Champ 440 rules stayed in place this year, there likely would be 15 or fewer drivers competing in the World Championship class. With the rule change, he said, there could be 25 or more.

As is the case with any notable rule change, however, not everybody is happy – for instance, the new rules made some expensive equipment that drivers and teams have developed become obsolete, and many top teams have a half-dozen or more modified engines “on the shelf.” The regular Champ 440 class – with the more open engine rules – will still be run at USSA oval races this season, but it will be a run-of-the-mill, regular class, without extra prize money rolled in.

And finally, the reason for the confusing names: The rules for Champ 440 are “locked in” by ISR for a five-year period, ending in 2021. The only way to make the changes desired by USSA and some other oval circuits/promoters was to create a separate class with similar but different rules – thus the creation of Pro Champ 440.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What are your thoughts on the rules and class changes that have been announced in oval racing this off-season? Be sure to make your opinion known in the comments section below.

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