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Ski-Doo, Ishoel Show Round One Strength With Duluth Domination

By John Prusak

The annual snowmobile snocross season opener at Duluth, Minnesota, is often where folks who watch the much-heated competition between the snowmobile manufacturers get to learn “who has the smoke” – which means, who has the best sled straight-out-of-the-crate among the three manufacturers who compete in snocross.

                A couple of years ago it seemed – based on the quick starts and early leads by its racers – that Polaris had the edge. Last year, it became very obvious early-on that Arctic Cat had the sled to beat – as green sleds almost always started each race with an advantage.

                For 2018-19? It looks like Ski-Doo might have the jump. The brand had all three racers in the final of Friday night’s specialty Amsoil Dominator event, and followed that up with a 1-2-3 finish in the first Pro final of the new season on Saturday, paced be Norway’s Elias Ishoel on the No. 200 Boss Racing/Jimmy John’s entry.

                Fellow Ski-Doo racer Lincoln Lemieux led most of the 18-lap final while Ishoel lived up to both ends of his reputation – he was super fast AND loose in pursuit, coming completely off the snocross course on one instance and most leaving it a second time, but staying on the gas and eventually charging his way into the top spot.

                Racing continues Sunday afternoon with round two of the Amsoil Championship Snocross series in Duluth, Minnesota. Make your picks now in the Fantasy Snowmobile Racing Challenge game that’s easy to play, free and fun. Tell your friends to join in the fun! 

Ishoel’s Charge To Victory

After a couple of rounds of heat racing and a last-chance qualifier, the Pro final on a windy Saturday night at the Spirit Mountain resort was a star-studded cast, but most notable was the number of Ski-Doos at the front.

                Five of the top six qualifiers, including the top three – based on heat race results – were aboard Ski-Doos. In order, the top qualifiers who earned front-row starts were Lincoln Lemieux (Ski-Doo), Tim Tremblay (Ski-Doo), Adam Renheim (Ski-Doo), Kody Kamm (Polaris), Elias Ishoel (Ski-Doo), Aki Pihlaja (Ski-Doo), Daniel Benham (Arctic Cat), Corin Todd (Polaris) and David Joanis (Polaris). Coming into the final through the last-chance qualifier – in order of finish in that race – were Kyle Pallin (Polaris), Logan Christian (Arctic Cat), Petter Narsa (Polaris), Kristofer Holm (Polaris), Nick Pattyn (Arctic Cat) and Mike Pilotte (Ski-Doo).

                On green in the final, Lemieux led the way down the hill and through the first tight turn on his No. 13 Scheuring Speed Sports Amsoil Ski-Doo, but Ishoel was immediately snapping at his snowflap, followed by Benham, Kamm, Pallin, Tremblay, Pihlaja and Renheim, with Todd, Narsa, Joanis, Christian, Holm, Pattyn and Pilotte rounding out the field.

                Lemieux opened up an impressive lead on the first couple of laps, but then Ishoel started putting on the heat – trying different lines and pointing his skis toward the inside of Lemieux in one corner and then outside on the next corner, seemingly tantalizing the leader.

                Then, would-be/could-be trouble struck for the first time for Ishoel, as he went way too hot into a corner at the top of the track and flew off the course on about lap six. By this time, Kamm had secured third spot, but Ishoel cranked his sled hard to the left, flew over a snowbank and re-entered the race course without losing a spot – though he did lose several seconds to the leader Lemieux.

                Not to be deterred, Ishoel again started putting down fast laps and once more closed in on the leader. By the end of lap 11, Lemieux’s lead was barely over 1 second but then Ishoel nearly blew the same turn he sailed through earlier – the young racer had to take corrective measures, allowing Lemieux’s lead to balloon back up to nearly 3 seconds.

                Some racers might have taken a deep breath and re-evaluated, but Ishoel lived up to his checkered-or-wreckers reputation and stayed hard on the gas, bombing through deep moguls and firing through lapped traffic. By the end of lap 14 Ishoel was all over Lemiuex again, and he passed his way into the lead on lap 15, squaring up a downhill turn early and jolting into Lemieux with a beautiful block pass.

                Once in the lead, Ishoel opened a gap and won easily, with Lemieux second and Tremblay – now with Warnert Racing after teaming with Lemieux at Scheuring Speed Sports for the past couple of years – charging up to third. Benham – starting his first season in the Pro class – finished an impressive fourth, followed by fellow Pro rookie Aki Pihlaja. Next came Renheim and Kamm sixth.

Post Race Thoughts

Interviewed immediately after taking off his helmet on the ISOC Amsoil Championship Snocross series webcast, Ishoel proved to be as big of a character when talking as he is when flying around the track.

                “I just tried to find good lines and it was hard, and then when I got off the track, I was like, ‘Oh shit!” Ishoel said through a laugh, “and then I just tried to come back and it went well. It’s good to be back healthy,” he added, referring to pre-season injuries that caused him to miss most of last season.

                Referring to his plans for Sunday’s second round, Ishoel said, “I will just try to do everything the same as today, just go smooth and try to find those good lines that are the fastest and just try to be fast.”  

                Second-place finisher Lemieux from Vermont was clearly not satisfied with his impressive finish after leading most of the way.

                “It was going pretty good out there but I just didn’t feel great at the end – I was kind of gassed so I was just trying to ride safe there at the end,” Lemieux said. “It was pretty crazy, I knew Elias was there the whole time and I was hoping he would fade, but I was the one who ended up fading. When we caught those lappers, there was one main line on the track where it seemed like everyone was going. There was one lapper coming down the hill and he was in my line, but that’s racing. I tried to switch it up but I got passed.”

                Tremblay, meanwhile, has made it a habit in the past several years to charge up through the past and claim a podium start, and he did it again Saturday night, despite being the oldest driver in the class.

                “That was a crazy race,” Tremblay said. “I thought I had a good jump, but in the first corner somebody just drilled me hard and I almost came off the track. But I just put my head down and tried to pass as many guys as I could and I ended up on the podium, so I’m really happy.

                Next, Tremblay briefly addressed his switch within the Ski-Doo world, leaving the Scheuring Speed Sports team to re-join the Warnert Racing team for which he race earlier in his career. “This is a new team for me but it is like my old family and everything is working really good so far, so hopefully we’ll keep the ball rolling.”

Pro-Lite, Vets & Women

The Pro-Lite final started with a massive crash in the first major turn at the bottom of the hill, with seven of the 15 sleds that started the race tangled and/or locked together while the other eight sleds sped away.

                At the front of the pack was 16-year-old Ryley Bester, who was competing in his first Pro-Lite class race after serving as a force in the Sport class last year. Wise and experienced beyond his years, Cat-riding Bester rode smart at the front, fought off some challenges at mid-race and narrowly held of Hunter Patenaude on a Scheuring Speeds Sport Ski-Doo, with Francis Pelletier on a Warnert Racing Ski-Doo third.

                “I’m beyond excited, I couldn’t ask for a better team – everyone around me, family and friends and people who helped me get here. I just can’t believe it,” Bester said. Later he added, “I got the start and I knew I was out front and I just had to ride my race. Consistent laps – that was my main thing, that’s what I was thinking. The whole race I was changing up lines, and at the bottom of the hill I could see that these guys were battling behind me. Right at the end there were a bunch of lappers and I had to make my way around them and these guys were pushing me the whole race.”

                “I was just pushing as hard as I could, right from the start things were getting out of hand,” Patanaude said, referring to the first-lap crash that he narrowly escaped.

                In Pro-Am 30+, Stud Boy Racing’s Zach Pattyn grabbed the early lead on his Arctic Cat but was under assault early by Cat design engineer and cross-country racer Wes Selby. While Pattyn ran fast laps up front, Selby soon had to worry more about what was coming behind him than chasing the leader, as Andy Lieders began biting at Selby’s snowflap. Lieders moved to second and started closing on Pattyn, but when pushing all of the boundaries of physics trying to catch the man up front, Lieders lost the handlebars and came off.

                That left Pattyn unchallenged at the front, and he took the victory, with Selby a ways back in second and Matt Pichner, who was involved in a first-lap crash, coming back to claim third.

                The Pro Women’s final was paced by Megan Brodeur, who claimed victory in front of Taven Woodie, with Malene Andersen holding on to third.

ADDED: Notes From ISOC Press Release:

  • Defending Pro AM Women champion Meghan Brodeur (Ski Doo) picked up where she left off by holding off last years Pro Rookie of the Year, Taven Woodie in the final.
  • ISOC is the official home of the AMA National Snow Bike Series, and 19 riders lined-up for Saturday nights final. Harris Huizenga led them all, utilizing a clean start to pick up the win in  the debut of the Snowbike class.
  • Zach Pattyn hasn’t raced much at all the past few seasons, but the former Pro racer seemed right at home, picking up his second win of the weekend in Pro AM Plus 30. Mr. Everything Wes Selby finished second ahead of Matt Pichner. Selby will swap his snocross sled in for a cross country model in a couple of weeks.
  • Kellen Chapuran pulled a double-double down on Saturday. He was the top qualifier and winner in the Jr. 10-13 and Transition 9-13 classes.
  • Dylan Lebel was the top qualifier and winner in Transition 8-10.
  • Andy Pake battled with Drew Freeland early in Sport Lite before taking control for his first win of the season.

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