Two days into the three-day Seven Clans Casino I-500 snowmobile cross-country race, it looks like its Ryan Simons race to lose.
The driver of the No. 67 Christian Bros. Arctic Cat ran the fast time for the second day in a row in the championship-level Pro Stock 600 class and has opened up a broad lead in the lower 48’s most historic and notable cross-country race. The event, headquartered out of the Seven Clans Casino just south of Thief River Falls, Minnesota, wraps up Saturday with another long run of ditch, rivers and trails before a champion is crowned.
Simons, 32, from Alberta, covered Friday’s varied course in a time of 2 hours, 6 minutes and 8 seconds, a full 5 minutes faster than his nearest competitor on the 142-mile route. That allowed him to open a 10 minute, 13 second lead over second-place Aaron Christiansen on the No. 10 Polaris, with Cody Kallock falling from second to third on his No. 39 Arctic Cat, now 11 minutes, 18 seconds back.
The lead by Simons is certainly impressive, but it hardly makes him a lock to capture this fabled race, which dates back to 1966. Its history is littered with last day hard luck stories by leaders and amazing comebacks by racers who started the last day far in the distance. But certainly Simons would be the odd-on favorite going into the last day.
Polaris racer Gabe Bunke, coming off another 500 mile victory last weekend – that one involved 500 laps around an oval track in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – ran the second day’s second fastest time and moved up to 10th place all the way up to fourth – 11 minutes and 33 seconds behind the leader. Another Polaris racer, Bobby Menne, is another 1:14 back in fifth. The rest of the top 10, in order, are Eric Gausen (Polaris), Wes Selby (Arctic Cat), Ryan Scripture (Ski-Doo), Cole Nymann (Arctic Cat) and Nathan Moritz (Arctic Cat). While there’s a big gap between first and second, the gap between second and 10th is just 8:35, so there could be a lot of movement within that group on Saturday.
For every story of racers moving up, of course, there’s a similar story of racers going in the wrong direction, and there are plenty of them in the standings. Ski-Doo racer Justin Tate was fifth after Thursday’s racing, but a rough Friday has Tate back in 16th place. He fared better than the guys who were 7th and 8th after Thursday’s racing: Both multi-time 500 winner Corey Davison and last weekend’s Soo I-500 enduro runner up Ryan Faust, both on Polaris sleds, failed to make it through the day and are out of the race.
Simons run also allowed him to add time to his lead in Pro Open, which he double-entered, meaning the time he scores in Pro Stock 600 counts in Pro Open, but technically he’s running against sleds that can be highly modified for this class. That includes the No. 311 Yamaha of Ross Erdman, who sits nearly 6 minutes back in second.
There’s a change at the top of the standings in Semi Pro 600, with Jon Arneson moving to the front ahead of Thurday’s leader Cole Nymann, thanks to a 2:16:40 run Friday vs. Nymann’s 2:18:11. Adding both days together, it’s Arneson with a narrow 49 second gap over fellow Cat racer Nymann. Nathan Moritz is scored third, ahead of Tyler Johnsrud. The fastest Semi Pro Friday was Spencer Kadlec, with an impressive 2:12:39 run that moved him up to fifth after a slow Thursday had him starting the day in 14th.
Other class leaders include: Nathan Moritz (Arctic Cat) in Semi-Pro Improved; Benjamin Langaas (Arctic Cat) in Expert 85; Arneson (Arctic Cat) in Masters 40; Jim Sobeck (Ski-Doo) in Masters 50+; Kevin Tinjum (Arctic Cat) in Trophy 85; Mayson Croaker (Arctic Cat) in Trophy 600; Langaas (Arctic Cat) in Trail and Jolene Bute (Arctic Cat) by 21 minutes in Women’s.