Friday night in Eagle River, Wisconsin, Malcolm Chartier laid down the law.
The defending champ at the Amsoil Eagle River World Championship Snowmobile Derby came in with a super-fast Ski-Doo-powered Champ 440 sled that allowed him to set the fast time in Thursday’s time trial.
At the First Place Parts Friday Night Thunder Program race tonight, he backed that up with dominating victories in his Sweet 16/TLR Cup heat race and then the final, allowing him to cement himself as the favorite to win Sunday in the World Championship race.
Racing on a bumpy and banked iced oval in front of a hearty and sizeable crowd on a cool Friday night, Chartier never looked stressed – guiding his Houle-built chassis around the track with ease and winning every time he hit the track.
In doing so, the Michigan-based race earned the pole position for Sunday’s World Championship race, allowing him to skip the Saturday qualifying process that awaits the other 23 competitors in the class.
Beyond that, he set a mark for other competitors to shoot for: In order to win, each driver and crew member knows they are going to have to get faster than Chartier. And that won’t be easy.
TLR Cup As WC Preview?
Thursday afternoon, the top Pro Champ 440 racers on the planet participated in time trials, followed by heat races to determine who would compete in the Sweet 16 final at the Friday Night Thunder program. The Sweet 16 would also serve as a points race in the high-profile and big-dollar TLR Cup program, so a lot was on the line.
In time trials, exactly three sleds broke under the 36-second benchmark, and all of them had Rotax power. They were led by Malcolm Chartier, who put in the fastest time and then backed it up in a second run with the second-fastest run. Clearly, he and his crew showed up with fast equipment.
The second- and third-place sleds in time trials belonged to fellow yellow-and-black racers Ryan Kniskern and Matt Schulz. While not teammates in a practical sense – the drivers and their sled builders don’t work out of the same trailer or otherwise work with each other – it was interesting to see such stretch from one brand.
In other racing Thursday and then during the daylight hours Friday, the field was paired from 24 to 16 drivers through heat races. Then Friday night under the lights, two heat races brought the field down to 10 drivers that would make a run for the money, the points and, for the winner, the pole position in Sunday’s final. Predictably, given the time trials, Chartier won one heat and Kniskern won the other, though Kniskern had to inherit his lead after early-race-leader Jordan Wahl had a clutch grenade and pull him out of the race.
In the final, after an initial restart caused by racers who jumped before the green, Chartier got off the line first and won the race to turn one, though Kniskern and Schulz were side-by-side behind him. Already on the first charge down the backstretch, Chartier’s sled hooked up and pulled away from the other competitors – he was already establishing the lead.
Kniskern locked onto second, with Schulz third, and soon those top three started to pull away from the pack. Behind then, two-time champ Gary Moyle locked onto fourth ahead of Cardell Potter, with Travis MacDonald and 2012 champ Nick Van Strydonk in their wake.
While Potter and Moyle argued over fourth, the top three spread out a bit, with Chartier eventually opening a half-stretch lead over Kniskern. Kniskern would close to within a couple second at the end, but Chartier never looked stressed, putting down smooth lap after smooth lap. Meanwhile, Moyle ended up breaking and pulling off, while behind him both Van Strydonk and Dustin Wahl started to charge through traffic.
At the end, it was Chartier two seconds ahead of Kniskern, with Schulz another 3-4 seconds behind Kniskern. Then came a hard-charging Van Strydonk and Wahl, followed by MacDonald, a fading Potter and Joey Fjerstad.
After the final, Chartier was calm and self assured. He tried to talk a good game, but his confidence was oozing.
“I wouldn’t say we’re more confident” than last year, Chartier claimed, “but we know what to do this year.”
He said this year’s sled is all-new, but he labeled it a “replica” of the championship winning sled from 2013.
And what about Sunday, we asked?
“There are a lot of fast guys – Ryan [Kniskern] is running strong, Matt [Schulz] is running strong, Nick [Van Strydonk] is away s a favorite,” Chartier said. “We’ll see.”
Kniskern said he also had a new sled, though his was hardly a replica.
“It’s the same motor package, but there’s a great improvement in handling,” Kniskern said.
Those two are clearly the class of the field, but both are relatively young. Does that open the door slightly for Schulz? He’s certainly got fast equipment.
So Chartier now has 1 of the 10 front-row spots for Sunday’s final. The remaining 9 will be determined in Saturday’s heats and semi finals. Check back with snowgosite.wpengine.com on Saturday evening to see results from those races, and also to see our fictional odds on each racer.
In Other Racing
The Friday Night Thunder program included a lot of racing, from vintage and Formula racing on the oval, snocross racing in the infield and even select vintage class racing. We took a lot of notes and photos, but official results allowing us to match photos and notes with driver’s names were not available Friday night from the Derby Track. But here are some initial highlights:
* Corin Todd won an entertaining and full-contact Pro Open Snocross final. He was running fourth when teammate Trevor Leighton (then second) got into a tangle with then third-place James Johnstad. Todd moved up, chased down the leading Arctic Cat, and then traded paint with him. The Cat ended up on its hood while Todd raced away to a victory ahead of his other teammate, fellow Leighton Motorsports racer Zak Mason.
* Ryan Springer won the Pro Lite final on his Carlson Motorsports Polaris, though without his team. Springer said the Carlson crew left this morning for Colorado to begin training and setup for next weekend’s Winter X Games event. So, Springer threw his team sled in his own personal training, drove himself to Eagle River and collected a first-place trophy.
* Blaine Stephenson ran away with the Formula 500 final On Friday night.
* Ken Beckford swept two Vintage classes, utilizing Polaris Star Fire models to gain victory in botht he 340 and the 440 vintage classes run Friday night.