For close to a decade, some folks have been thinking that maybe this will be the year that somebody truly challenges Tucker Hibbert. And, in more recent years, most competitors have also been hoping that maybe, finally Hibbert – one of the oldest racers in the Pro class – would finally age and let the others catch up.
Yet every time, Hibbert has answered, resoundingly. It happened again Saturday night in Duluth, Minnesota, when the sport’s most dominant snocross racer (by far) earned his 17th career victory at Duluth and 128th Pro final overall with a dominating victory on a rough track.
It took Hibbert just a few laps to move to the lead in the 22-lap final, and then he sped away to a dominating victory, with his relatively new primary rival Kody Kamm the only other racer within 10 seconds of the man known as T-Train.
Then, perhaps unintentionally adding insult to injury, Hibbert said in his post-race interview that he actually didn’t feel that comfortable during his dominating victory.
“It was tough, I wasn’t confident in the lines I wanted to take, I just had a couple of options in mind,” Hibbert said in the post-race interview during the host Amsoil Championship Snocross series webcast. “Honestly, I didn’t feel that great out there, it was pretty good but I was happy to keep maintaining my lead but I wanted to gain but I just couldn’t find a line I was super comfortable with, so I kind of stuck with what I knew was working and rode it to the end.”
That’s not a great sign for the competition, but they’ll get another shot Sunday when the same racers return for round two on the circuit at Duluth’s Spirit Mountain. Meanwhile, Travis Kern earned the Pro-Lite victory, making it a sweep for Arctic Cat racers in the top two classes. (Make sure to make your picks in the fantasy Snowmobile Racing Challenge game here on SnowGoer.com — click through to play, it’s easy, free and fun.)
Full Class Narrowed To 15
Some folks worried whether there would be a full Pro-class field this year, but several riders who normally run other circuits showed up at Duluth and packed the premier class, meaning even making the final was an accomplishment.
Round one heat winners were Lincoln Lemieux (Ski-Doo), Petter Narsa (Polaris) and Tucker Hibbert (Arctic Cat); and round two winners were Logan Christian (Arctic Cat), Narsa again and Canadian visitor RJ Roy (Polaris).
Observant fans will notice some big names missing from that list, including defending champ Kody Kamm and the man he raced for the championship last year, Tim Tremblay. In fact, Tremblay had to go through the last-chance qualifying race to even make it into the final.
When it all shook out, Narsa earned the most points in the heats and thus was the top qualifier, followed by Christian, with Kamm fourth, Hibbert seventh and Lincoln Lemieux ninth. Between them were some unexpected name, including Corin Todd in his first year as an independent, Dylan Hall coming out of Canada, Leo Patenaude from the East Coast Racing circuit and RJ Roy. Advancing along with Tremblay out of the LCQ were Pro rookies Jake Angove and Nick Pattyn plus Ontario racer Taylor McCoy to go along with more regular Pro class finalists Kyle Pallin and Adam Renheim. Pro regulars Ryan Springer, Brett Nastala and the returning Johan Lidman, among others, didn’t make the cut.
On green in the 22-lap final, it was Dylan Hall who grabbed the early lead on his No. 421 Arctic Cat, charging down the hill and through the first turn cleanly with much paint traded behind him. Meanwhile, top qualifier Narsa was paid off for his hard work in the heats by getting dumped off of his sled in that first turn.
On the following uphill, Lemieux immediately challenged Hall, with Roy and Hibbert directly behind. It was tight up top, but Lemieux struggled when the racers returned to the downhill and Hall opened a gap. Kamm grabbed third, with Hibbert right beside him, followed by Patenaude and Christian.
Lemieux’s struggled continued the next couple of laps, as he looked out of synch with his Ski-Doo and drifted back to mid-pack. Kamm got by him first for second, but then Hibbert grabbed the spot on his Cat and took off after Hall. Midway through the third lap, Hibbert put on a serious challenge for the lead on the uphill and then took the spot with a tight line up top. Hall tried to fight back, but Hibbert sped away quickly.
It took Kamm a couple more laps to move past Hall into second, and by then Hibbert already had built a 3.5-second lead. By lap 10, Hibbert’s gap on Kamm topped 10 seconds, and Kamm never appeared to put on a challenge to seriously close that gap.
Behind those two, Hall fell to the pressure of some of the ISOC Amsoil Championship Snocross series regulars, with Christian grabbing third on about lap 8, then a resurgent Lemieux moving back up to third past Christian on about lap 10.
Up front, Hibbert had a few awkward landings but overall put down strong lap after strong lap and won by 4.5 seconds over Kamm, with Lemieux, Christian and Tremblay rounding out the top 5. Next came Renheim, Roy, Narsa and Pallin, with Angove rounding out the top 10. Next came Todd, McCoy, Hall, Patenaude and Pattyn.
Words With Champs
After the race, while interviewed by ISOC’s Kate Osborne, Hibbert said he was glad to start the new season on top.
“Every win is special and this one is really good. It’s the first race of the year and we want to start it out on the right foot,” Hibbert said. “Last year I was a little disappointed. It was an up-and-down season for me – I won a lot of races but I just didn’t feel like I was doing my best, so I wanted to come out swinging this weekend. To get the first race of the year means a lot to me and the team.
“We’ve had a pretty crazy last couple of weeks working so hard at the shop trying to put all of this stuff together and be ready to come out here and finish on top, and that’s what we did so I’m happy,” Hibbert continued. “The sled is just dialed in and it’s so good this year, I can’t explain how good it is, so I’m excited about this year for sure.”
Kamm was less excited about his second-place finish and said he resigned himself to second place when he saw how strong Hibbert was up front.
“I got into second right away and Tucker was ahead of me,” Kamm said. “We were virtually the same speed for the first few laps and then he started inching away. I just decided to let him go and finish off the race strong.”
Despite his valiant recovery that led to a podium finish, Lemieux sounded disappointed in himself for finishing third.
“I had my lines picked out before the race but I couldn’t have ridden more poor in the first five laps,” the Vermont-native said, “but I got into my rhythm and went back to the lines that I chose in the beginning and they seemed to work. I found a really good line up the hill line and that’s where I was catching [Logan Christian] and then I set him up before the finish line area and took over third.”
Pro-Lite To Kern
The Pro-Lite class in recent years has actually had some of the most highly competitive, fun-to-watch races and deepest field, and that has made watching this class of could-be future stars fascinating. And, based on Saturday night’s race, that trend might continue.
When it all shook out, though, it was Travis Kern who was the class of the field on his No. 201 Arctic Cat. He grabbed the lead early, fought off a challenge by Martin Molland for the first half of the race and then pulled away to an impressive 14-lap victory.
Molland’s early run ended when he came off the sled as he approached the finish line at the conclusion of lap 8. With him out, Minnesota-based Kern maintained about a 2.5-second gap over a game Marcus Ogemar-Hellgren from Sweden to take the victory. Defending class champion Aki Pihlaja from Finland recovered from a brutal start and charged up to third. Next came Jacob Yurk, Viktor Herte, Travis Muller, Evan Daudt, Hunter Patenaude, Martin Molland and Nisse Kjellstrom.
After the race, when interviewed on the ISOC webcast, Kern first gave a lot of the credit to the new Arctic Cat race sled.
“The Arctic Cat snowmobile this year is unbelievable, Speedwerx built an awesome motor, Fox has got it dialed it, there’s so much confidence with this sled, you can’t beat it,” Kern said.
“My Arctic Cat got me a great start, from there it was just hitting my marks and staying smooth the whole race, and staying consistent with no mistakes,” Kern said later. “The track was changing the whole entire race with ice edges and stuff, so I had to change my line a couple of times but it all worked out in the end.”
Like Kern, second place Ogemar-Hellgren was happy to return to a top-three finishing position after a previous season affected by injury.
“It’s been a long time since I was on the podum, I got an injury in 2016 and last year wasn’t good at all for my side, but we kept working and it paid off,” Ogemar-Hellgren said.
Defending point champ Pihlaja explained his rough start and hard charge.
“I got a really good start and got the holeshot but I went over the berm and somebody got into the back of my sled and I had to cover over the hill and down into the woods,” Pihlaja said with a grin. “When I came back I didn’t know where I was [in the standings] but I pushed as hard as I could, and that’s why I’m here” on the podium.