Lincoln Lemieux, celebrating his season-opening victory in Elk River, Minnesota. Photo from the ISOC race circuit.

The long-awaited start to the 2021 snowmobile snocross racing season has finally arrived, and one day into a new ISOC Amsoil Championship Snocross series there are already huge developments worth keeping an eye on.

       For starters, the two-time defending Pro champion finished next to last in his final, so he now faces a big climb in the points chase.  

       Also, this was the first time the 2021 race sleds from the three brands that compete in snocross were together in competition, and after day one not a lot is clear: A Ski-Doo won the Pro class, followed by two strong Arctic Cats, but Polaris sleds went 1-3 in Pro Lite and also won the Sport class.

       What does it all mean? Well, hopefully it means we’ve got a highly competitive season ahead of us. But, with round two coming Saturday back at the fan-less (thanks to COVID restriction) but otherwise spectacular ERX Motor Park in Elk River, Minnesota, things could change quickly.  

The track at ERX was well laid out and long, resulting in 50-some second laps and lots of room, but icy edges under the loose snow kept drivers on their toes. After reading the story, make sure to make your predictions in the Fantasy Snowmobile Racing Challenge game – it’s free, easy to play and fun.  

Pro Class To Lemieux

Two rounds of qualifying races (two heats per round) resulted in four different winners representing all three brands – setting the stage for an interesting final and, hopefully, an interesting season.

       In round one of the heat races, two-time defending champion Elias Ishoel from Norway was the first heat of the year follow by Pro class rookie Hunter Patenaude (both on Ski-Doos) and then Polaris ride rKyle Pallin. The second heat race, though, was dominated by Cat racer Logan Christian, with Lincoln Lemieux (Ski-Doo) and Jake Yurk (Arctic Cat) in his wake.

       In round two, 2017 points champ Kody Kamm claimed his first heat race of the season, winning by 4.4 seconds on his Polaris ahead of Pro rookie and Pro Lite defending champ Francis Pelletier (Ski-Doo) and fellow Polaris racer Oskar Norum. The second heat was particularly exciting, as Yurk got the lead early and held off several hard charges by Ishoel, with Daniel Benham (Ski-Doo) third.

       Look over those results again: If there’s such thing as a “heat podium,” those 12 spots were represented by 10 drivers, but only Ishoel and Yurk finishing in the two three twice. That’s parity.

       With 16 sleds entered in the class and 15 slots available for the final, a last-chance qualifying race was held to eliminate one racer, and that racer was Swedish hard-charger Adam Renheim, who was pushed off the track after contact with another racer in that LCQ.

       Ten sleds lined up in the front row and five behind them for the final based on qualifying results. The final would feature a new format, modeled after what is used in motocross racing – with an initial segment run on time (10 minutes in this case), but then once the leader passes the starting line the first time past the 10 minute mark two laps are added in the race to the checkered flag.

       In the center of that 10-wide front row was Vermont-native Lincoln Lemieux on the traditional black Scheuring Speed Sports sled. The front row launched well together, but Lemieux made it through the high-speed first turn the quickest and grabbed the early lead with three Arctic Cats (Yurk, Christian and Trent Wittwer) on his tale.

       The biggest first-lap news, though, was in the tumbling sleds barely visible in the heavy snowdust. When that dust cleared, three of the sport’s true hotshoes – Ishoel, Kamm and Benham – were scrambling back to the sleds after coming together. Kamm appeared to get the worse of it and would be lapped a couple of laps into the race, but he staying on the track and kept making circuits – spoiler alert: that would pay off later.

       The Michigan-native Yurk – back after being injured early last season – challenged Lemieux early, diving beneath him in a turn and generally being a fly that Lemieux couldn’t easily swap, but after a couple of laps Lemieux opened a bit of a gap. The key words, though, are “a bit” as Yurk stayed within sight throughout the race. Lemieux’ lead would accordion between 1.3 and 4 seconds, with Lemieux occasionally pulling away and Yurk occasionally narrowing the gap, but there never was another true challenge for the lead.

       Somewhat similarly, Christian of Fertile, Minnesota, sometimes would edge up on Yurk and then slip a little farther behind. Christian seriously closed the gap in the last lap and finished in a solid third place, but fell just short of the second step on the podium.

       Behind that stability in position, there was a lot of change. Wittwer ran a surprisingly strong fourth for most of the race but ran into trouble a couple of different times late in the race and fell far back. Lemieux’ teammate at Scheuring – Patenaude – was the first one past Wittwer and he would hang on for fourth.

       Behind him, though, the slow-starting Scandinavians were on the charge, as Emil Harr, Oskar Norum and, from the far back, Elias Ishoel starting picking their way through traffic. Harr would move up to fifth by the end and Norum to sixth, but Ishoel found more problems late in the race and would be scored 14th, putting him in an early hole as he searches for a threepeat.

       Cole Cottew, Benham, Pallin and Travis Muller rounded out the top 10, with Kamm moving up to 11th, old standby Andy Lieders 12th, then Wittwer, Ishoel and Pelletier. So, by staying on the track and taking advantage of others’ troubles, Kamm gained some points on his rival Ishoel.

What They Said

Lemieux started strong two years ago but then had his season cut short with an injury, ending his shot at a points championship. This year, he’s back looking for redemption.

       “Especially on a cold day, it means so much to get a good start,” Lemieux said. “You know, all the guys back in the trailer just had my sled ripping, I couldn’t do it without them. I was in the middle [on the starting line], there were five guys inside of me and I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got to beat those five guys to the first corner’ and I got it. Then I just tried to ride smart and not let an ice-edge catch up to me and throw me off.

       “It’s just an awesome way to start the season,” he continued. “I’ve done it before so hopefully we can keep it up and lead a lot of laps – that’s my goal….The main goal is to be a champion. Before I’m finally done racing I want to be a champion and win as many races as possible for my whole team.”

        Second-place Yurk has some very impressive and surprising runs early last season and appears ready to run up front again on his Zandstra Motorsports Cat.

       “It was quite the race, there came a point where it got super icy so I was really just trying to stay away from the mistakes and be smooth,” Yurk said. Speaking of Christian’s late charge, he said, “He crept up there on me in the end, and I heard he was sneaking in a little triple there in the rhythm section. I’ve definitely got to watch out for those lines more and I know we can be better. We’ve got a lot more speed.”  

       Christian guided his Christian Bros. Racing No. 43 Cat to an early season podium, but he was left wanting more.

       “I had a good start and ran in third right away from the get go and was pushing Jake a little bit at the beginning but then lost some time to him,” Christian said. “I wish I would have searched a little bit harder out there, something to take in for tomorrow, but you have to be careful, too, because you hear sleds behind you and you don’t want to get too far out of whack. But the last lap I found a couple of lines out there, and I’m really kicking myself for not looking for it earlier. But it was a good race – to start the first race on the podium is a good start.”

Peterson Returns In Style In Pro-Lite

The Pro Lite field seems especially wide open this year after its top stars from the past couple of years have moved up to the Pro class, so there was much anticipation as the 15 sleds that advanced through the heat races lined up on the starting line on Friday night.

       After all of that, though, the final was rather anticlimactic as the order at the front of the field set itself early and never changed.

       Adam Peterson of Medford, Wisconsin, grabbed the lead early in lap one on his Lavalleee Racing Polaris, with Cameron Anderson in second on his Ski-Doo. local boy Taylor Cole of Medina, Minnesota third on a Polaris and Cameron’s brother Corbin Anderson fourth on another Ski-Doo.

       Lap after lap, the racers challenged the bumps and charged through tricky conditions, but none of those positions was ever seriously challenged and they finished in that order.

       After the race, Peterson was especially pumped up due to the timing of the victory.

       “It feels amazing being up here,” Peterson said. “January 8, 2020, I had just got out of knee surgery. To be able to come back exactly one year later and win is just more than I could ever ask for.”

       To exhibit his joy, he performed a trick over the finish line jump that would make his team owner, snowmobile stuntman Levi LaVallee, proud.

       “I was thinking the last couple of corners, ‘I’ve got to do something cool,’ so I threw the heel clicker over it,” he said. “You can’t beat the feeling of it – it’s so awesome.”  

       Cole was perhaps even happier than Peterson, though, with his third place finish.

      “I’m so excited that we got to race here this year, and that I’m on the box here,” Cole gushed. “I’m SOOO jacked to be up here!”  

Other Notes

In Pro-Am Women, Wyoming native Taven Woodie got off to a great start and led the way early on her Woodie’s Racing Arctic Cat, but class dominator Megan Brodeur of Quebec soon pulled into second place and began adding pressure. Woodie did a fine job of covering her lines and running fast laps, but Brodeur is so dominant that a pass seemed inevitable. A bit past the halfway point, that proved to be true, as Brodeur dove to the inside of Woodie entering a turn and pushed her to the top of the berm, then grabbed the lead and pulled away to a sizeable victory.

Woodie couldn’t just quit, though, because she soon had Malene Anderson of Norway applying her own pressure and trying to take the runner-up spot. Woodie wouldn’t cave, though, and held the position to the waving checkered flag.

       Interviewed on the ISOC webcast immediately after the race, Brodeur noted that the final didn’t start as she expected.

“During my heats I had holeshots in both of them and then I was confident for the final,” Brodeur said, but then she didn’t get off the starting line well in the big dance. “But I was patient all race long and made the pass and the right time, and I am happy.”

“Snow Bike Cowboy” Jesse Kirchmeyer was dominant in the Snow Bike class, winning both of his motos in style and earning the overall victory. In the Sport class, Kenny Mandryk of Ontario had a breakthrough victory on his Polaris ahead of Wisconsin’s Kyle Kunstman.

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