A day after locking up his 10th national snocross season championship but chasing other sleds from behind in the final, Tucker Hibbert left nothing to chance Saturday night in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, leading the Pro Open final from start to finish and earning his 12 victory of the season on the ISOC Amsoil Championship Snocross series. One more race – to be held Sunday afternoon and carried live on the the CBSSports Network and simulcast here on snowgosite.wpengine.com – will be held before the racers shut down their high-powered snowmobiles for the season.
In Pro Lite, meanwhile, Norwegian rising star Elias Ishoel took the win with a big air pass, but points leader Montana Jess grabbed yet another podium and looks to sew up his own points title on Sunday. Marica Renheim earned another victory in Pro Women’s to cement her points lead, as did Sport points leader Nickolas Lorenz.
Pro Open: It’s All Hibbert
After finishing first and third in his two heat races, Tucker Hibbert did not go into Saturday’s final in his usual No. 1 qualifier position on his No. 68 Arctic Cat. That honor, instead, went to the winner of the Friday night final – Swede Petter Narsa on the No. 54 Polaris. But, taking advantage of a rule that was actually meant to more-or-less slow him down and make racing more competitive, Hibbert’s No. 4 qualifying position allowed him to choose a better starting position than Narsa, and that paid off in the final.
After a season that included many injuries, only 15 Pro Open drivers tried to qualify Saturday in Lake Geneva, meaning the heat and last chance qualifying races would be all about points and positioning, as everybody would make the final. That means all six Polaris, five Arctic Cat and four Ski-Doo sleds would roll in the big dance. This is the points order after qualifying: 1. Petter Narsa (Pol); 2. Corin Todd (Pol); 3. Kyle Pallin (Pol); 4. Tucker Hibbert (Cat); 5. Ross Martin (Pol); 6. Tim Tremblay (Doo); 7. Lincoln Lemieux (Doo); 8. Jake Scott (Cat); 9. Andy Lieders (Pol); 10. Adam Renheim (Doo); 11. John Stenberg (Doo); 12. Corey Watkinson (Cat); 13. Andrew Carlson (Pol); 14. Zach Pattyn (Cat); 15. Matt Piche (Cat).
When the starting line in the final flashed green, Hibbert launched from a center-of-the-starting-line starting position and immediately claimed the lead on a charge up the first hill, though local favorite Martin from nearby Burlington, Wisconsin, was on his flank, with Renheim locking into third.
In a unique twist on this track, there was a built-in short cut (sponsored by Pirtek) that racers could take just once that cut about 15 seconds off of their lap time. To stymy any hopes of his competitors, Hibbert took that short cut the very first time he was able, on lap 2, and was followed through by much of the field, including Martin. Renheim, though, took the long route on that lap and fell back to toward the back of the field.
By lap two, Hibbert had opened a 2.6 second lead on Martin, with Lemiuex, Todd and Tremblay in the mix behind him. Renheim was coming up through traffic, and by lap four was all the way up to fourth, with the short cut still ahead of him. When he finally took the shortcut on lap 5, he came back onto the main part of the racing course in second – rather close behind Hibbert and ahead of Martin.
After lap 5, it was Hibbert, Renheim, Martin, Lemieux, Pallin, Tremblay, Narsa, Todd, Stenberg, Scott, Watkinson, Carlson, Pattyn and Piche, with Lieders’ sled parked on the infield after he pulled off with a mechanical problem.
There was no catching Hibbert, though. Lap after lap he continued to build on his lead, and Renheim was unchallenged in second. Behind them, though, there was plenty of exciting racing going on, as Lemiuex and Martin staged a fabulous battle for the third podium spot. Martin was clearly stronger on the uphills, but Lemiuex showed more guts on the sketchy downhill runs and would often challenge Martin for the spot at the hill bottoms before Martin would pull away again. This happened for several laps until Martin had a strange-looking, slow-speed off on the inside of a turn during lap 10 – tipping his sled on its left side and landing in the soft snow. That allowed Lemiuex and his Scheuring Speed Sports teammate Tremblay to knife past, with Martin rejoining the race in fifth.
Up front, Hibbert just kept adding time to his lead, with the long and relatively wide track allowing him to race without problems with lapped sleds. His lead was more than 9 seconds on lap 9 and he held that to an easy victory. He rolled over the finish line casually after 12 laps, a margin of victory of 9.4 seconds over Renheim. Lemiuex finished third, 16 seconds back, and he had Tremblay on his snowflap. Then came the Polaris sleds, in order, of Pallin, Martin, Narsa and Todd, with Scott ninth and Watkinson 10th. The final five were Carlson, Pattyn, Piche, Stenberg and Lieders.
Words With Champs
After the race, Hibbert looked calm, cool and collected.
“It was a fun night tonight for sure – the track was really rough and it was challenging, I wasn’t quite sure the lines I wanted to take,” Hibbert said when interviewed on the P.A. system after the race. “I settled in pretty good after a couple of laps and felt really strong. The start is what really made the difference for me tonight…The whole team [has been] working so hard so I can get those good starts and it makes life a lot easier on me for sure.
“I felt good, I felt like I had good speed. I was able to manage the race from the front and just kind of ride my own pace and it worked out good,” Hibbert added.
After messing up the Pirtek shortcut on Friday night, Renheim said he was “planning to be a little smarter today,” and indeed he was, coming home in second.
“I want to thank my whole team at Boss racing, all of my mechanics, they work so, so hard, it’s unbelievable how much they work for me to do this for a few minutes out on the track, a big thanks to them,” Renheim said in an interview on the simulcast.
Lemiuex barely held off his teammate to take third – we’ll have to see how that plays out in the Scheuring Speed Sports trailer, considering that teammate Tremblay is in a tight battle for second in the season points standing with Renheim, but we’re guessing owner Steve Scheuring has taught his racers to run their best race to the end, and that’s what Lemiuex did.
“I looked back with like two laps to go and I saw Tim back there but I was focused on my lines and trying to go as fast as I could,” Lemiuex said. “Ross put up a good battle there so it took me awhile to get by him. It was a good, fun race.”
“It feels good to be up here… it shows all of the hard work I’ve put into this,” he added.
Pro-Lite To Ishoel
Norway’s Elias Ishoel continues to be the most hard-charging and some would argue craziest racers on the track, and he again willed himself to an impressive victory Saturday night in the Pro Lite classes.
After working his way through the pack and eventually moving into second, Ishoel bombed into the lead, using a big-air jump that won’t be forgotten soon by those lucky enough to see it. He absolutely launched on the downhill jump, with enough airtime to catch a nap and read an in-flight magazine. The landing was a bit squirely, but he seemed to shock Maxime Taillefer when he went by him in the air and took the lead. Ishoel then build on his lead and ran away to the victory, with Taillefer second and points leader Montana Jess third.
Some folks make broad proclamations about Ishoel’s go-for-it style, but the Warnert Racing Ski-Doo driver is definitely finding consistency – in fact, this was his fifth Pro Lite victory in a row. Had he not suffered a broken foot injury at Duluth, Minnesota, in round 2, that led to start-and-park entries in the next two rounds, he’d definitely be challenging for a points championship. Instead, it’s the steady Jess that is looking to lock up that spot Sunday in Lake Geneva, as the racer second in points going into Saturday’s racing – Jake Angove – finished 10th, allowing Jess to build on his lead.