A fascinating night of racing at Duluth, Minnesota’s Spirit Mountain ended with a predictable finish but a hint that racing this year may be increasingly competitive on the national snocross scene this coming season.
Mister Snocross Excellence Tucker Hibbert won again, his 109th victory on the national snocross scene and fifth straight final victory at the season-opening Duluth race on the ISOC Amsoil Championship Snocross series. Hibbert wasn’t perfect in his heat races and had to ride hard to pass Kyle Pallin in the final, yet when the money was on the line there clearly wasn’t anybody better than him Friday night.
The night did show, however, that Polaris riders appear to be very comfortable on their new Axys chassis-style Pro Open sled (meaning, with Axys style body panels and revised ergos) and Arctic Cat riders are now all getting good holeshots thanks to their new rear suspension gadget that was developed on Hibbert’s sled in the past. Ski-Doo had a rough night in Pro Open, but that comes 24 hours after Tim Tremblay won the Amsoil Dominator event on the new Ski-Doo race sled. It’s going to be a competitive year for sure.
Meanwhile, a rising star from Norway won in Pro Lite, a veteran from Quebec claimed Pro Vets and a newcomer grabbed the top spot in Sport.
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Two rounds of heat races determined which 10 racers would start in the first row of Friday night’s season-opening final, and a last chance qualifier determined the five guys who would start in a second row of sleds.
The front row features the Polaris sleds of Kody Kamm, Ross Martin and Kyle Pallin, Arctic Cats of David Joanis, Tucker Hibbert, Justin Broberg, Logan Christian and Corey Watkinson and the Ski-Doos of Tim Tremblay and Adam Renheim. The second row was all Polaris – in order of their finish in the LCQ, it was Petter Narsa, Corin Todd, Ryan Springer, Andy Lieders and Colby Crapo.
Kamm came in as the No. 1 qualifier based on sweeping his heat races, but for the first time in ISOC history that meant he got the 10th (and last) selection for where he wanted to start on the front row. He ended up far inside and, apparently, that made him jumpy. Before the starting light went green, he lurched forward and sent a plume of loose snowdust into the air behind his sled. There was no hiding with that kind of evidence, and he had to start in a makeshift third row, behind the 14 other competitors.
When the race was actually started, it was the No. 324 of Pallin that bolted to the front with Ross Martin immediately behind him. After the first complete lap, Martin momentarily grabbed the lead in the tight first turn after the flag stand, but Pallin took the lead back with harder charge up the backstretch uphill section.
Meanwhile, Tucker Hibbert started at midpack but was determined notw to stay there. Just a couple of laps in he pushed his way into second on top of the hill past Martin and took off after Pallin, with Broberg hanging on to fourth. Behind them were Tremblay, Joanis, Renheim, a fast-advancing Kamm, and then Christian, Todd and Narsa.
The inevitable didn’t happen right away, however – in fact, after a couple of tight laps, Pallin actually extended his lead up front, building it out to 1.5 seconds by lap sixth and held about the same margin on lap seven. In one quick lap, though, Hibbert pretty much erased the whole lead and pulled up beside Pallin on the downhill. In doing so, however, Hibbert appeared to get into the first turn too hot and Pallin opened a slight gap again on the uphill.
The next time Hibbert got his chance, he wasn’t about to let it get away. Again Hibbert pulled even on the downhill and established himself on the inside. When the two sleds got into the tight first turn, there was contact but it appeared just like tough, clean racing, though Pallin almost unloaded and was likely saved by bouncing off a lapped sled on the outside.
Meanwhile, Hibbert grabbed and handful of throttle and rocketed away with a lead he would never surrender. Pallin was very game in second – always staying within three or four seconds and pulling far away from the battle that was forming behind him for third. But he never challenged Hibbert either.
And that battle for third? It was initiated by Kamm, who moved in succession past Tremblay and Broberg and then set his sights on his main Polaris rival in Martin. It took a few laps, but Kamm was running on about the same pace as the leaders and soon slipped past the fading Martin to claim third. Broberg grabbed fourth on the last lap, with Martin slipping to fifth.
The rest of the top 10 were Joanis, Renheim, Todd, Narsa and the rookie Springer. Crapo grabbed 11th, followed by Lieders, Watkinson and then Tremblay and Christian, who both experienced problems during the race.
On The Podium
Hibbert was his typically classy-cool self after the win, sharing credit with his team and crediting his competition for continuing to push him. “The whole team is working so hard, it’s good to get these wins, especially the first race of the year,” Hibbert said. “It’s a good way to start things off.”
As is his longstanding trademark, Pallin was all smiles on the podium, saying , “I just went out there and did the best that I could. I kept hunting for lines the whole race,” he added, noting that there was icey snow beneath the loose snow which added to the challenge. “I just about lost it a couple of times,” Pallin said.
“On that start I got really excited and made one of the biggest mistakes of my life and jumped” the start, Kamm said (and likely overstated, unless he’s lead a rather mistake-free life to this point!). After starting in the back row and having to work his way through traffic, he said he “had no idea which place I was in the whole time. When I came off the track and my crew said third I got instantly happy.”
After having many of its top racers step up to the Pro Open class this year, the Pro-Lite class is wide open for the 2015-16 season. Several Sport class racers, meanwhile, stepped up into the Pro-Lite class and seem determined to challenge those who stayed in Pro Lite.
After a couple of rounds of qualifying, Zak Mason went in as the top qualifier on his Team LaVallee Polaris, with Montana Jess second on his Jess Racing Arctic Cat. Other front row starters, in order of qualifying results, were Maxime Taillefer (Ski-Doo), Daniel Benham (Arctic Cat), Kevin Wallenstein (Ski-Doo), Travis Muller (Polaris), Cole Cottew (Polaris), Martin Moland (Arctic Cat), James Johnstad (Polaris) and Jake Angove (Polaris). Coming through the last-chance qualifier were Elias Ishoel (Ski-Doo), Travis Kern (Arctic Cat), Kris Holm (Polaris), Eetu Karjalainen (Arctic Cat) and Jordan Kraus (Polaris).
It was Jess who got the holeshot in the early going and made a break from the rest of the field along with another green Cat driven by Benham. Cole Cottew led the rest of the pack and eventually separated himself and started snapping at Benham’s snowflap before having a hard off when, coincidentally, his crew chief was being interviewed on the live webcast.
While that was going on up front, the teal No. 200 Ski-Doo of Ishoel was knocking down the competition in the middle of the pack. He won one heat race but then had problems in his second race and was forced into the LCQ, which he won, and thus had to start in the second row, behind 10 other competitors. But the racer from Norway showed the aggressive, checkers-or-wreckers approach that earned him both fans and detractors last year, firing through the pack and then making quick work of Benham and Jess to take the lead and run away.
After that, the race was all Ishoel on Makita-sponsored Warnert Racing sled. He won easily, with Benham finishing third right behind second-place Jess, where he spent the entire race.
“I was just trying to find some good lines,” Ishoel said after the race while being interviewed for the ISOC webcast. “I didn’t know I was in first before I saw my mechanic holding up the pitboard.”
Jess, who despite his first name is actually from an M state far from the Rockies – Massachusetts – was happy with his second-place finish in his first Pro-Lite final after moving up from Sport class racing in 2014-15. “I was having a blast out there,” he said. “I got an awesome holeshot but the races are longer than they are in Sport and the competition is tougher.”
Benham, of Deer River, Minnesota, also collected his first podium finish in Pro Lite, saying “I knew these guys were fast and knew that they were no joke,” before adding that he and his team “have some improving to do to catch the 200 (Ishoel) so we’ll get on that.”
Pro Am +30
In Pro Am +30, the race was taken over by guys who are making a cameo appearance on the national snocross scene.
Somewhat former snocross and cross-country racer, and currently a designer at Arctic Cat, Wes Selby signed up to race this weekend and made it look good at first, jumping out to the early lead ahead of defending class champion Kurt Bauerly. As Bauerly attempted to keep pace, fellow Ski-Doo racer Danny Poirier – a Quebec racer who is a regular on the East Coast Snocross circuit for Ingles Performance and who came to Duluth to open his season – grabbed second and then chased down the leader shortly thereafter to take the lead.
Bauerly held third for only a short period become coming off of his Ski-Doo. That opened third place up to Justin Tate – a longtime racer who said after the race that this is roughly his 20th appearance at Duluth – on a Polaris. Tate said this would likely be his last appearance in snocross, as he will spend the rest of the winter focusing on cross-country racing and some other things.
The three stayed in that order, with Poirier taking the win, Selby second and Tate third. Another Eastern racer, Patrick Brodeur, finished fourth ahead of Bauerly, who re-mounted his sled and charged up to fifth place.
The Sport final Friday night was a rugged one – starting with a brutal crash on the first downhill that sent two drivers off the track, with one missing running over the prone second driver, who had been tossed from his sled.
Jay Lura of Hawley, Minnesota, held the early lead in the race on an Arctic Cat, but appeared to be fighting it a little bit, casing several landings and having many close calls with offs. Eventually, one of his bobbles slowed him enough to let Camryn Anderson of Allenton, Michigan, past him on a Ski-Doo. But, a little more than a lap later, one of Anderson’s own bobbles at the bottom of the hill cost him the lead, and the hard-charging Jacob Yurk swung by on the outside on his Polaris.
Yurk, from Grand Blanc, Michigan, had started the race at mid-pack but he stayed calm and smooth and worked his way through the pack. Once in the lead, he pulled away to win by a wide margin. Anderson held on for second, with Dylan Jansen of Ham Lake, Minnesota, moving up for third on an Arctic Cat.