If anybody thought that the Tucker Hibbert who made ESPN Winter X Games snocross finals dull had disappeared, the 28-year-old driver from Pelican Rapids,Minnesota, served notice to the contrary Friday night inBessemer,Michigan.
The one-time dominator who earned X Games gold in snocross six times, including five consecutive, dominating years form 2007 to 2011, had an off-season last year on a new race chassis, and hopes that he would be back to form were partially dashed at this year’s season-opener at Duluth, Minnesota, on Thanksgiving weekend.
But Friday at the second ISOC Amsoil Championship Series event of the season, Hibbert was unstoppable. He was first to the waving checkered flag every single time he took to the track, and none of the races were close.
In fact, in the Pro Open final that wrapped up a busy day on he long, heavily moguled track at the Blackjack Ski Resort, Hibbert recovered from a mediocre start on his Monster Energy/Ram Trucks Arctic Cat, quickly came through the pack, grabbed the lead from the Duluth double-winner Robbie Malinoski and then checked out in a way that nobody has seen since Tucker’s earlier dominating days. His margin of victory was an astonishing 36 seconds.
The Road To Victory
As noted, Hibbert came through the heats undefeated, and thus was the No. 1 qualifier when the final was lined up at about 9 p.m. Central time Friday. That gave him choice of lanes, but no other advantage over the nine other sleds that lines up in the front row. Not far behind that pack, the five drivers who qualified through the last chance qualifier event made up row 2. Of the 15 sleds that lined up, six were Polaris, five were Ski-Doo and four were Arctic Cat.
Just as he did inDuluth’s Sunday final, Malinoski grabbed the holeshot on his Scheuring Speed Sport/Amsoil Ski-Doo. He traded paint with another sled as the racers powered through the first sweeper, and then he climbed the first uphill with a lead. Ross Martin slotted into second on his Jack Link’s Polaris, followed by Darrin Mees. Pro Rookie Kyle Pallin was also in the mix early.
In a corner on a short uphill roughly a lap later, Mees got into Martin and ushered the 28-year-old Wisconsin driver off the track – a mistake for which he would later publicly apologize for over the P.A. system. The spot where Martin got booted couldn’t have been much worse, as he had to work around a huge wall of snow to get back to the track and would re-enter the race near the early of the field. Martin’s chance for a victory was gone.
Meanwhile, Hibbert emerged out of the pack and was suddenly all over Mees. He followed him for about a lap, showing Mees a ski on his left in one turn, and then a ski on his right in the next turn as his anxiously put the heat on last year’s ISOC Rookie of the Year.
Once past Mees, Hibbert seemed to close the couple-second gap on Malinoski in about two turns. Again, he both applied pressure while also seeking new lines on the bumpy track. Hibbert pulled beside Malinoski with a valliant charge on the big downhill, had a ski length lead over the finish line table top and then started to pull a bit of a lead coming out of turn one. Within a half-lap, he had a 10 sled-length lead. Within a couple laps, the lead was 4 seconds.
Lap after lap, Hibbert padded his lead. He was strong and aggressive, but incredibly smooth. Suddenly the lead was 15 seconds, then 20. This domination came in front of a very strong field. Malinoski was unchallenged in second, and Mess was similarly comfortable in third. Far behind them, a battle started to brew, as several people who had bad starts fought for positions and points. In one tight bunch, rookie Kody Kamm, a recovered Ross Martin and a resurgent Tim Tremblay duked it out, with Levi LaVallee just in front of them. Tremblay would work his way past all of them.
By the time the checkered flag waved, Hibbert had an amazing 36 second victory over Malinoski, who was followed by his teammates Mees and Tremblay. LaVallee recovered from a horrible season opener at Duluth to claim fifth, with Martin sixth, Kamm seventh and Garth Kaufman eighth.
After the race, Hibbert was all smiles. Earlier in the day, Hibbert said he felt he had something to prove in Michigan. Prove it he did – he is still a champion.
“I feel good, real good,” Hibbert said with a broad smile when interviewed on the podium. Asked about why he built such a huge lead, he explained that it helped him keep his concentration. “I just kept pushing. It’s easy to lose focus when you’re in the lead and not chasing anybody … The track is pretty brutal out there, they built a challenging race track here.”
Hibbert added that he was happy his team could recover after what he deemed “a rather lackluster weekend in Duluth.”
Malinoski will easily keep the points lead with his second-place finish after two victories inDuluth, but he had the understatement of the night on he podium.
“That was a good, old-fashioned butt-whipping from Tucker,” Malinoski said. “He showed everybody who he IS tucker. That’s great, he’s back to race and now we’ve all got to go find some more speed.”
Mees was similarly happy with his second straight podium after also finishing third inDuluthon Sunday, but the first thing he did was apologize publicly to Martin.
“I want to say sorry to Ross, I got so squirely on that downhill. I didn’t hit him that hard, but I kind of ushered him off the track,” Mees said, before focusing on the rest of the race. “I got so tired out there, I am happy I was able to hold onto third.”
Round four of the ISOC Amsoil Championship Series is Saturday on the same track. Here are the unofficial results as announced immediately after the race: 1. Tucker Hibbbert (Cat); 2. Robbie Malinoski (Doo); 3. Darrin Mees (Doo); 4. Tim Tremblay (Doo); 5. Levi LaVallee (Pol); 6. Ross Martin (Pol); 7. Kody Kamm (Pol); 8. Garth Kaufman (Cat); 9. Justin Broberg (Pol); 10. Petter Narsa (Doo); 11. Colby Crapo (Pol); 12. Cody Thomsen (Cat); 13.LoganChristian (Cat); 14. Emil Ohman (Doo); 15. Kyle Pallin (Pol).
Two Other Finals
Ontario-based Pro racer Dave Joanis continued to make the best of his brief appearance in the Pro-Lite class south of the border. He got the holeshot in Friday’s Pro-Lite final on his Royal Distributing Ski-Doo, but bobbled early and allowedMinnesota’s Andrew Carlson to take the lead.
Joanis followed for a few laps, but then slid back into the lead and ran away to an easy looking victory. No. 1 qualifier James Johnstad came through traffic and got past Carlson late for second, with Carlson finishing third.
One race earlier, the year 1999 called, and it wanted its racers back. In the Pro Am 30-Plus final on Friday night, Justin Tate ofScandia,Minnesota, took the lead early and appeared on his way to an easy victory when an old nemesis made a late run.
Ontario-native Earl “Scrap Iron” Reimer made a late run through traffic, worked past a bunch of Bauerley family members along with Josh Zelinski, and then ran away from Zelinski late to put heavy pressure on Tate in the last couple of turns. It was reminiscent of a heat race on the old WSA circuit in the late ‘90s or early 2000s, with Tate and Reimer going at it. Tate, 36, had just enough to win on his DL Racing Ski-Doo.