The past two seasons, Wisconsin-based Kody Kamm has gained a reputation as an immensely talented racer who just rides a little too out-of-control at moments during any given race to be considered an elite racer.
None of that was on display Sunday in Duluth, Minnesota, where Kamm led the 20-lap Pro Open final from the flash of the green starting line until the waving of the checkered flag. He opened up a relatively big lead in the middle of the race and then held off a late charge by Tucker Hibbert to gain a popular victory at the ISOC Amsoil Championship Snocross series opening weekend.
Meanwhile, Zak Mason earned his first victory of the season in Pro-Lite and Megan Brodeur earned a season-opening victory in the Pro Women final, all before a loud and engaged crowd at the host Spirit Mountain ski hill.
The Surprise In Pro Open
In a sign of how competitive the snocross racing truly is early this season, there were six different winners in the six heat races – made up of two rounds of round-robin qualifying. Kody Kamm, David Joanis and Tucker Hibbert won their heats in the first round, while Ross Martin, Kyle Pallin and the surprising Cody Thomsen won in the second round.
Points in each round allowed these drivers to earn front row starting spots, in order of their qualifying record: David Joanis (Arctic Cat), Kyle Pallin (Polaris), Tucker Hibbert (Arctic Cat), Corey Watkinson (Arctic Cat), Tim Tremblay (Ski-Doo), Lincoln Lemieux (Ski-Doo), Kody Kamm (Polaris), Trevor Leighton (Polaris), Adam Renheim (Ski-Doo) and Cody Thomsen (Arctic Cat). The second row, in order of how they finished in the last-chance qualifier, were Ross Martin (Polaris), Justin Broberg (Arctic Cat), Petter Narsa (Polaris), John Stenberg (Ski-Doo) and Corin Todd (Polaris).
After being relegated to a third-row starting position in Saturday night’s Pro Open final, some might think that Kamm would be passive at the starting light on Sunday, but those folks clearly don’t know the aggressive Hentges Racing driver. When the light flashed green, Kamm timed it perfect and darted from his far inside starting position into the lead, sweeping in front of the 14 other drivers.
In his immediate wake was Thomsen, followed by Lemieux, Pallin and Leighton, with Hibbert the first driver out of the top five. By lap three, the order was Kamm, Thomsen, Pallin, Lemieux, Hibbert, Tremblay, Leighton, Renheim, Watkinson, Todd, Stenberg, Joanis, Broberg, Martin and Narsa.
While Kamm had a clear track in front of him and bright blue skies above his head, Hibbert was fighting traffic. Thomsen had trouble and dropped back and Lemieux got by Pallin, then Hibbert started working on Pallin and grabbed third place by lap five.
Coming off of a season last year mostly lost to injury, Lemieux held surprising strong in second. Hibbert was snapping at his snowflap, but the Vermont native on the black Scheuring Speed Sports sled held his lines and put down consistent laps and proved very difficult to get past. That allowed Kamm to open a lead approaching 10 seconds up front.
Finally, on lap 10, Hibbert got a good run on Lemieux coming up the hill and used an inside line to get past and grab second place at the race’s halfway point. There was a lot of lapped traffic and about a third of the track between Hibbert and Kamm, but everybody watching knew this final was going to tighten up quickly.
Kamm held tough for a few laps, then the superstar Hibbert started eating into the lead. It was 8.5 seconds on lap 11, then down to 6 seconds after lap 13, then 5 seconds two laps later as both drivers weaved through lapped traffic. Meanwhile, Tremblay got past his teammate Lemieux a few laps later to grab third.
Then came the predictable countdown – the lead was 4 seconds with four laps left; 3 seconds with three laps left. From the outside, Kamm appeared to be tiring slightly, as evidenced by him sitting more often than he had earlier, while Hibbert gained strength once Kamm came into clear sight. At the top of the hill before the races came around for the white flag, two lapped drivers crashed, causing the leaders to slow through a yellow-flag zone, and when they came out of that Hibbert was right on Kamm’s rear flap. The race was anybody’s to win as they took the white flag.
On the uphill on the backstretch, however, Hibbert appeared to case one jump while searching for a way around Kamm, and that allowed Kamm to open the lead to about four sled-lengths. It narrowed back up to about two sled-lengths on top of the hill, but Kamm was flawless coming back down the hill and took the waving checkered flag about 1.5 sled lengths ahead of a game Hibbert.
Tremblay held on for third, With Renheim coming through the crowd for fourth ahead of Pallin. Next came Todd, Martin, Stenberg, Broberg and Narsa.
Post Race Quotes
Interviewed by ISOC sideline reporter Carly Aplin, Kamm recapped the race.
“I got a great start and just was riding and fell into a pace, and I knew I had a pretty big lead,” Kamm said. “Then I could hear [Hibbert] the last couple of laps behind me. I just tried to finish off strong and I got it.”
Later, Kamm added, “I had an awesome day today – round two I ended up fifth and I wasn’t so happy about that – but I got a great start in the final and I managed to ride a great race and stay in the lead the whole time with no mistakes and just finished off the race in first,” Kamm said.
Hibbert isn’t too used to giving second place interviews.
“I was giving it everything I had for sure, I was really slow on the start all day, I don’t know what I was doing – I was just late on the light and that made a big difference for me today,” Hibbert said. “So I started a ways back and had a lot of work to do to get up to the second-place position. Once I got there I felt really good – I put together a lot of good laps and was able to catch Kody right at the end, but not good enough. He was riding really good today.”
Tremblay ran strong for awhile in Saturday’s final but then disappeared from the standings – he explained while on Sunday’s podium.
“Yesterday was not really my fault, somebody hit me in the side and I lost my clutch side panel and I got disqualified for that, but today was a better day,” Tremblay said. “It was OK in qualifying and then I did not have the greatest start in the final but I was able to move from sixth of seventh into third place, and then we got into lapped traffic and it was just chaos out there.”
International Affair In Pro Lite
The Pro Lite field was whittled down to the final through a couple of rounds of heats, and what was left was truly an international crew, with very little representation from Minnesota and Wisconsin, which normally dominates the entries at Duluth.
Qualifying for the front row, in order of points gathered in those heats, were Montana Jess (Arctic Cat) from Michigan, Martin Moland (Arctic Cat) from Norway, Kevin Wallenstein (Ski-Doo) from Michigan, Elias Ishoel (Ski-Doo) from Norway, Zak Mason (Polaris) from Michigan, Marcus Ogemar Hellgren (Ski-Doo) from Sweden, Nick Pattyn (Arctic Cat) from Michgan, Eetu Karjalainen (Arctic Cat) from Finland, Maxime Taillefer (Ski-Doo) from Quebec and Travis Muller (Polaris) from Minnesota. The second row added back in some normalcy, with Tyler Adams (Arctic Cat), Travis Kern (Arctic Cat) and James Johnstad (Polaris) all from Minnesota, plus Mikko Osmo (Polaris) from Finland, and Brett Nastala (Arctic Cat) as the lone Wisconsinite.
Mason got the holeshot but Taillefer had the better line through the first turn, swept around the outside and took the early lead. Saturday’s winner Ishoel soon moved to second and he and Taillefer pulled away from the pack to stage their own private battle.
For the first six laps, Taillefer showed the way while Ishoel followed, always within about five sled-lengths on the bumpy track. Some laps Ishoel would shadow Taillefer and eat his roost; other laps he’d try different lines.
Then, on the seventh lap, Ishoel tried an inside line up the rugged uphill backstretch and made his first real challenge. However, at the very top of the hill a last kicker put Ishoel out of control, and as his body lurched forward toward the handlebar his right ski caught the back of Taillefer’s tunnel, and both driver crashed hard.
With their sleds and bodies scattered across the track, Mason arrived about three seconds later, picked his way through the carnage and into the lead. After that, the Michigan native racing his first season for Team LaVallee put down consistent lap after consistent lap, easily keeping his 3 to 4 second lead all the way to the checkered flag.
Behind him, Jess always had Muller in his shadow, and Moland was in Muller’s shadow, but despite how close they all were no positions changed and they finished in that order.
After the race, Mason said, “I guess I got an early Christmas present” when referring to the crash that gave him the lead, and then thanked his mechanic/crew chief for giving him a great starting spot that allowed him to take the holeshot.
For Jess, it was his second second-place finish of the weekend, which should put him at the top of the points battle. He pledged to get more seat time before the schedule moves to a track near Buffalo, Minnesota.