Sunday marked the first round of the USSA ProStar Cup – the first official shootout of all of the top Pro Champ 440 drivers who will be making a run at the World Championship in Eagle River two weeks later, and most of whom are also running for ProStar Cup season championship honors, and the racing didn’t disappoint. The action was fast, furious and exciting!
In the end, it was Cardell Potter who made the biggest statement. The veteran driver and former World Champ out of Camp Douglas, Wisconsin, twice had to overcome superior holeshots from last year’s TLR Cup champion, Gunnar Sterne, and also had to catch and pass the defending World Champion Blaine Stephenson to gain an all-important victory on the flat and fast track inside the fairgrounds in Ironwood, Michigan, at the historic Ironwood Snowmobile Olympus event.
The victory came after a Saturday, regular season USSA race on the same track that saw Sterne win over Stephenson and Potter pull off the track with a mechanical problem. Those three drivers all made early season statements and shows of power.
Some of the racers who competed at Ironwood will race this coming weekend at the Country Cat Snodown at Buffalo River Raceway in Glyndon, Minnesota, while others will use the time to test and tune on private tracks in advance of the all-important World Champion race in Eagle River on January 18-20.
Competition at Ironwood included many different classes of racing over the two-day event – including vintage sleds to modern stock Factory 600s, juniors and women, F-500, Sportsman and even the exciting Outlaw cockpit machines. Full results can be found on the USSA site by clicking here. The event also marked the first round of Snow Goer’s Fantasy Snowmobile Racing Challenge Oval game – with Tyler Beach jumping out to an early lead. You can join and play the fantasy game at any time – it’s easy, free and fun.
A FINAL TO REMEMBER
A long day of qualifying preceded the Sunday afternoon final on a murky day in Ironwood on January 6, and didn’t provide much of a preview of the final. Each driver competed in three round-robin heats with four or five sleds, and after it was complete seven drivers gained at least one victory in the nine heats, with Blaine Stephenson and the surprisingly strong Brendon Grendzinski each capturing two victories and Glen Hart, Nick LaGoy, Cardell Potter, Gunnar Sterne and Nick Van Strydonk each notching a single victory.
When the green flag triggered the start of the final, Illinois’ Sterne got the holeshot on his Red Bull-backed, Ski-Doo-powered Champ sled, but Stephenson of Hutchinson, Minnesota, stole the lead away from him during the first lap and led in the early going.
The ever-recognizable hi-viz yellow sled of Potter passed his way into second place on the second lap and locked onto Stephenson’s rear bumper, running several laps in the leader’s spray and occasionally trying lines a bit higher or lower through the turns as those two pulled away from the pack. On lap 4 Potter tried a low line under Stephenson through turns one and two, then tried entering turn one higher than Stephenson on the next lap.
As the drivers completed lap seven, Potter used an inside line coming out of turns three and four to set up a drag race down the front stretch, and he claimed the lead right before the start/finish line. The Cranberry Kid built that lead to about seven sled-lengths during that lap and then added a bit more distance on the following lap, creeping away from Stephenson’s cool looking Polaris/Wahl sled. Both of those drivers are backed by Jimmy John’s.
Soon, though, the field was brought to a halt with a red flag due to Travis MacDonald’s sled shutting down in a bad spot. The remaining drivers brought their sleds to the front stretch and shut them down while safety workers cleared the track, then the sleds were cued back up for the standing restart, with Potter’s sled parked a few sled-lengths in front of Stephenson’s, and then Sterne’s a few sled lengths behind Stephenson’s. Van Strydonk and Grendzinki were fourth and fifth. Only eight sleds would take the restart – Danick Lambert and Sabrina Blanchet had pulled off in the early going and MacDonald was now also out. Colt Dellandrea failed to start the final due to engine problems.
The restart completely scrambled everything, however, as Sterne once again nailed a brilliant holeshot and darted into the lead entering turn one, with Stephenson second narrowly ahead of the former-leader Potter as the race was reignited for a four-lap sprint to the finish.
Sterne’s lead was short-lived, though, as Potter once again demonstrated his speed and driving prowess and worked into the lead, with Stephenson and Sterne battling hard for second directly behind him as the drivers took the white flag.
Potter pulled away up front and won by about a half-dozen sled lengths, with Sterne a solid second and the Stephenson narrowly holding off the late-emerging LaGoy for third. Behind LaGoy came Van Strydonk and then Hart, Pro Champ rookie Tom Olson and Grendzinski, who suffered a mechanical failure.
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