Technically Veteran’s Day in the United States is in November, but maybe there are special provisions when it comes to Colorado and snowmobile snocross.
After watching some young guns make impressive showings in the previous two rounds on the Amsoil Championship Snocross series, Saturday night saw the podium loaded with 30-somethings in Pro Open, with Tucker Hibbert showing the way to the checkered flag and earning an impressive sweep in the class at the Country Cat National.
It was another sweep in Pro-Lite, where Finnish racer Aki Pihlaja followed Friday’s impressive victory with another on Saturday, setting himself up as clearly being the man to beat in the class so far this season.
Compared to Friday night’s blizzard conditions, Saturday’s weather seemed tame at the track located just north of Winter Park, Colorado. The only snow in the air was that which was kicked up by the racers, though temperatures sat at 0 degrees for the final.
The four qualifying heat races in Pro Open were won by four different racers on Saturday night. Corin Todd won his fifth heat of the early season in six attempts, while Kody Kamm, Tucker Hibbert and Lincoln Lemieux won the others Saturday. Combined with his second-place behind Todd in the second round of heats, Kamm went into the final as the No. 1 qualifier.
When the lights flashed green in the final, the Polaris of Ross Martin and the Cat of Hibbert immediately surged to the front, with Hibbert appearing to lead the charge to the first kink but Martin had the better line overall and charged up the hill with the lead. Behind Hibbert in order were Petter Narsa, Kyle Pallin, Tim Tremblay and Todd as the field swapped paint on the rough first lap.
Seeing Martin up front was a bit of a surprise after his Friday performance when he didn’t even make it out of the last-chance qualifier and into the final. But the proud veteran racer and former class champion from Wisconsin looked determined to stay there as he was pestered by Hibbert on the first few laps.
Hibbert was relentless behind his rival, however, trying different lines inside and out and forcing the issue for the top spot. The third time on the uphill, Hibbert found traction on an inside line and then diced in front of Martin, who was left in his roost. After completion of that lap, Hibbert’s lead was already more than 2 seconds over Martin, and it would never get any closer.
Behind Martin the running order at this point was Pallin, Narsa, Todd, Tremblay, Lincoln Lemieux, Elias Ishoel, Kamm, Logan Christian, Adam Renheim, Colby Crapo, Andrew Carlson and Justin Broberg, though things would change behind Hibbert.
The first big charge came from Ishoel. The crazy Norwegian roared through the field with his go-for-it-all style and was pushing hard to get past Tremblay on the big downhill when he over-jumped one section, hitting the top of the next jump and casing his snowmobile hard. The machine swapped, bucked and tossed the young rider, and the tumbling sled may have even hit the back of Tremblay’s No. 11 Ski-Doo as it tumbled away from Ishoel, whose night was done.
All of this activity seemed to light a fire under Tremblay, who as usual was getting stronger as the night went on. He moved his way through the field and by lap nine of the 15-lap final was sitting in fourth behind Hibbert, Martin and Pallin, and just ahead of Narsa, Kamm and Lemieux. He moved past Pallin on lap 10 then quickly closed on Martin using an impressive line he developed on the downhill that included a triple where others were doubling.
During lap 12 Tremblay moved past Martin with a strong inside-out move on top of the hill, but by this time Hibbert was already more than 13 seconds in the lead and on cruise control.
In the end, it was Hibbert by 12.383 seconds ahead of Tremblay, with Martin another five seconds behind him in third, then a six-second gap to Narsa in fourth. Kamm finished fifth, followed by Lemieux, Christian, Todd, Renheim and Crapo. Pallin, Broberg, Carlson and Ishoel rounded out the field.
Pro Open Podium Interviews
After the race, Hibbert admitted that he still feels pressure to do well after dominating the sport of snocross for so many years.
“There’s always pressure whether you’er winning or second or third – there are always people who are pushing you,” Hibbert said on the webcast interview, adding that he tries to “focus on myself and try to be the best racer I can be every weekend.”
And then he sounded an ominous note for the rest of the field, saying, “ I’m feeling like my old self again and am excited about the rest of the season.”
For Tremblay, it was his third second-place finish in three rounds of racing this season, and he realizes what that means if he wants to be this year’s points champion.
“It feels awesome to be on the box every race because it’s important” in the season standings, the Quebec racer said.
For Martin, it was a day of redemption.
“Today was just one of those days where I really liked the track,” Martin said. “I just had a terrible day yesterday so I just wanted to come back and do the best I could.”
Exciting Pro Lite Win To Pihlaja
The Pro Lite result was somewhat familiar to those only comparing box scores between Friday and Saturday night, but the Saturday final was a spectacular competition.
Friday night winner Aki Pihlaja from Finland on his Boss Racing Ski-Doo held the early lead but then came under a heavy assault from Nick Lorenz on the Judnick Racing Polaris. The two swapped the lead back and forth in a classic battle, with the top spot changing hands three times on one lap alone as the each driver was ultimately aggressive yet they raced each other clean.
For everything that Lorenz threw at him, though, Pihlaja had an answer and eventually Lorenz seemed to tire and Pihlaja got away and opened a five-second lead. Soon, Lorenz was under attack, first by his teammate Jake Angove and then by a fellow Wisconsinite Cole Cottew. As Lorenz slipped deeper into the pack, Angove and Cottew sliced and diced for second in another fascinating battle for position. Cottew was more aggressive and claimed the spot and held it to the checkered flag.
In the end, it was Pihlaja by 2.8 seconds over a late-charging Cottew, and then another 1.6 seconds back to Angove, with Lorenz 6.5 seconds behind him in fourth. James Johnstad claimed fifth, with Kevin Wallenstein, Montana Jess, Zak Mason, Tyler Adams and Danny Poirier rounding out the top 10.
After the race, Pihlaja admitted to enjoying the race with Lorenz in a short interview with the track announcer. Second place Cottew had a lot more to say:
“The one section down the hill just fits my style, I always like the rougher whoops,” Cottew said. “As soon as I came in the trailer after practice I knew today was going to be a good day, I was just in love with the track and my sled was running good.”
His good day was salvaged by his team, however.
“After round two [of the heat races] my sled actually blew up because it took in so much water from all the roost from going up that hill. They were spinning wrenches and got it put back together in time for me to get back out here.”
For Angove, it was a third trip to the podium, but he was far from satisfied.
“I didn’t do the greatest, I guess, I wasn’t breathing right the first half of the race and it just kind of tired me out quicker than it should have,” Angove said.
In FXR Sport, Trent Wittwer led early on his Arctic Cat but Jay Lura moved around him early in the seven-lap final and held off a late challenge by Ski-Doo rider Hunter Patenaude to get the win on his KC Motorsport Polaris.