Competing on a short and incredibly bumpy track in front of a great crowd on a cool night, Tucker Hibbert secured his forth Pro Open class weekend sweep in Salamanca Falls, New York, Saturday night, and 10th win in 11 finals this season (including the X Games Aspen).
Heavy travel, a moguled out course, poor visibility and a game Kyle Pallin made sure it wasn’t easy for the king of snocross, however.
After sweeping through his heat races, Hibbert was once again the No. 1 qualifier going into the final on the ISOC Amsoil Championship Series, allowing him to choose his preferred lane on the 10-across starting line. He started far inside, but didn’t get the greatest start.
Instead, Pallin launched out to the lead. Hibbert started out about fifth, but when the sleds in front of him got busy dicing in the first turn, a lane opened up and Hibbert charged through to second. After a couple of sort-out laps, Cody Thomsen locked into third, followed by the Kody with the K – Kody Kamm – in fourth. Then came Justin Broberg, David Joanis and Johan Lidman in the top half of the 15-sled race.
Pallin was putting down near-perfect laps the first five circuits in the 28-lap final. Soft snow and a rugged course design led to hard landings everywhere on the course, and flying and hanging snow. By lap six, however, Hibbert was all over Pallin’s snowflap. He tried different lines on the inside and the outside, but whenever it looked like Hibbert might have a path, the sleds would end up in the corner together and, this early in the race, Hibbert wasn’t going to use force to move the popular racer from Michigan’s U.P.
It happened again and again between laps 8 and 12: The two drivers would each go into the corner hard, but Hibbert would have to jam the brakes to avoid getting into Pallin. Then, on lap 13, Pallin bobbled on the backstretch and was forced to take the wide way around turns three and four. That gave Hibbert the space he needed to run the inside lane of the corner hard and win the race to the tabletop jump.
It took Hibbert awhile to get away with any sort of gap, though, due to the rugged and short nature of this course. Fast laps were in the 20-21 second range, and the drivers got into lapped traffic early, plus the course featured loose snow that even had top pro racers like Hibbert having many hard landings in a herky-jerky looking final. Mix in a ton of hanging snowdust, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Surprisingly, though, there weren’t many crashes in the final, despite all of the traffic and the challenges. Hibbert crept away and won by more than 7 seconds on his Arctic Cat, with Pallin hanging tough in second and Kamm coming up just short of his rear bumper in third, with both of those drivers on Polaris sleds.
Even though it appeared that Hibbert went out of his way to really avoid getting into Pallin in the early part of the race, he said it was game-on right from the beginning.
“I wasn’t waiting for anything, he was riding really strong,” Hibbert said. “It was a pretty wild track, there were a lot of really hard landings… I was making sure I didn’t hit a hole wrong and come off of the sled.”
How hard were those landings?
“It was like jumping off a building and landing on your feet 28 times,” Hibbert told ISOC announcer Carly Aplin after the race.
“The track was really soft out there and the snowdust was terrible, and then there was all of those ice edges that you couldn’t see out there,” third-place Kamm added.
Pallin, as usual when he makes the podium, was all smiles. The third year pro credit “just sticking with it and working hard” for his emergence this year, “and now it’s finally paying off.”
PRO OPEN: 1. Tucker Hibbert (Cat); 2. Kyle Pallin (Polaris); 3. Kody Kamm (Polaris); 4. Johan Lidman (Ski-Doo); 5. Justin Broberg (Polaris); 6. David Joanis (Cat); 7. Logan Christian (Cat); 8. Lincoln Lemieux (Ski-Doo); 9. Mike Bauer (Cat); 10. Cody Thomsen (Cat); 11. Petter Narsa (Ski-Doo); 12. Levi LaVallee (Polaris); 13. Bobby LePage (Polaris); 14. Mike Piliotte (Polaris); 15. Zach Pattyn (Ski-D00).
That same rugged course made things interesting in the Pro Lite final earlier in the evening. Recovering from a tough night on Friday, Andrew Carlson got out front on his Polaris, and began using a wide line on the backside of the berm in one turn to carry a lot of speed and hold the point.
Directly behind him, Corin Todd was looking for lines and trying different approaches to get to the front. About halfway through the final, Todd finally got his chance and bolted into the lead when Carlson bobbled. Soon Andy Leiders moved past Carlson as well and into second. Next, Todd’s teammate Trevor Leighton made a turn at Carlson but came off his sled while trying to undercut him coming out of a turn.
Up front, Todd was oozing confidence, as he has been for the last month. He was never seriously challenged and gained a victory for the second straight weekend. Leiders came home second with Carlson third – making for a Polaris 1-2-3 sweep of the podium.
“I had a bad first round and knew I had to pull it together the rest of the day to make it into the final,” Todd said after the race. “I just put my head down and put in the work and here we are.”
“It was gnarly, you couldn’t see the yellow flags,” Carlson said. “It was a fun race, I’m happy to be back on the box again” after a bad day on Friday, Carlson said.
Leiders also called it a “good race” but said he had to overcome being a little bit late on the starting line to work his way up to second.