Gunnar Sterne just barely missed out on another national points title in snowmobile Pro Champ oval racing last winter. From the look of his performance at the season-opener in Beausejour, Manitoba, this past weekend, he’s very determined to make sure that doesn’t happen again!
The 29-year-old veteran oval racer from West Chicago, Illinois, laid down the gauntlet on his Red Bull-sponsored Ski-Doo mod, winning every heat race and then the final in the Pro Star Cup’s first round on December 10 in Manitoba. The Pro Champ class featured a huge variety of entries for the opening round, but ultimately the cream rose to the top.
Sterne took the lead on the first lap of the final after carrying more momentum on a slightly wider line in turns three and four than the early leader Justin Peterson. He then opened up a big lead while those directly behind him traded paint in turn two. The field was brought back in line with Sterne twice during the event after red-flag restarts, but Sterne held off multiple challenges – first by rival Blaine Stephenson and later from fellow Ski-Doo riders Matt Goede and Travis MacDonald.
After the race when interviewed by track officials on the Cooleddown.tv webcast, Sterne said of his Mike Houle-chassis Champ sled, “This thing was fast all day. We were fast here in the spring and it just works here.”
However, the sled was slightly imperfect in the final, he stated. “It handles great, but I was pushing a little bit there in the final today. I wish we would have made a change before the final but we had great holeshots all weekend.”
MacDonald came home a surprising second. “We got lucky with some of those restarts. The sled was working good – it’ll be a little faster tomorrow hopefully so we don’t need the restarts,” he said. “But we’ll see – we’re super excited, we didn’t expect to be up here today.”
Goede – a winner of three of the four finals he entered last year – was beating himself up over his third-place finish after giving up second place with a little over a lap left.
“I definitely blew [turns] 3 and 4 there coming to the white flag and let Travis get by me,” Goede said. “I’m pretty disappointed in that, but we have something to work with here for sure. Overall it was good, but Gunner and Blaine were faster for sure, they had way more top end than I had. It was a good run for the first race of the season.”
Sunday’s Pro Champ final at Beausejour was not a part of the Pro Star Cup points battle, but Sterne once again dominated. He won ahead of Goede and Stephenson, followed by MacDonald, Tom Olson and Justin Peterson. The Formula III class had just six entries at Beausejour but all were fast entries. The FIII finals were won by Stephenson on Saturday and Calvin Cook on Sunday.
Here’s the full report from the USSA Pro Star Cup series (below).
22-23 ProStar Cup Tour Round 1 Recap
In the late 1980s, the group Queen released a song entitled “I Want it All.” Sometimes you must be careful what you wish for. Round 1 on the 2022-23 ProStar Cup Tour really did provide all of what can be expected at an ice oval race and more.
In the ice oval world, “I want it all” included 26 Pro Champ sleds registered for the opening day of the ice oval racing season; competitive heat racing with a minimum of six sleds on the line; an LCQ you had to qualify for; and a 15-lap final with North America’s best sprint ice oval drivers. The races Deceber 10-11 had it all, but there are also more several visits to the hay bales, early season mechanical gremlins, a rough injury time out, fading daylight and more.
Round 1 of the 22-23 ProStar Cup Tour kicked off in Beausejour, Manitoba, Canada. With an incredibly strong number of entries, Friday’s practice sessions almost seemed like heat racing as many of the top teams found themselves on the ice at the same time. The top three teams from last year had one eye on their own sled and the other on the competition. The Friday practice session saw great speed, mechanical issues including engine failures, a blown clutch and a ton of adjustments.
Above average temperatures greeted the 25-team field on Saturday morning with the 127 of Jordan Siebold scratching due to a practice day crash. Working hard with the great folks at the Canadian Power Toboggan Championships, the Pro-Star Cup Tour was up and ready for the first round of heat racing at precisely 10:30 a.m. Four heats were on the schedule and right off the bat, the first heat was loaded with last season’s top two finishers, the No. 102 of Blaine Stephenson and the No. 220 of Gunnar Sterne. In addition, local veteran Travis MacDonald and several rising stars joined the first heat. In a preview of the entire weekend, the Sterne found the lead and was first to the checkered flag.
Heat two found multi-discipline driver of No. 28, Matt Goede, quick out of the hole and leading the field to the checkered for a heat win. Heat three was led by a very strong Justin Peterson on his #39x Ski-Doo followed by the #39 Polaris of Tom Olson. Peterson crossed the line first but was disqualified after being a few pounds light on the post-race scale, giving the win to Olson. Heat four was loaded with new faces and up-and-coming drivers. After seven competitive laps, the checkered flag was first shown to the #370 of Matt Szalai. Round one of heats took 31 minutes to complete. With round two scheduled for 11:45, teams went right to work.
Round two started right on time with the drivers staged and ready. The first heat of round two finished with Sterne, MacDonald and Szalai taking the top three spots. Unfortunately, a nasty crash coming out of turn four found the No. 1 of Griffin Lepak and the No. 511 of Tyson Bzdell in the hay bales. The injuries to Bzdell required some immediate on track assistance and transportation to a local hospital. While mostly unhurt, the Lepak Arctic Cat needed some attention, causing him to miss the remainder of the day. It was a lengthy 30-minute delay in the racing action.
Round two heat two went to the quick Justin Peterson, followed again by Tom Olson and Brandon Grendzinski. Heat three finished with Beausejour local and Tour rookie Jordan Sobetski in the lead followed by Gavin Peterson and Sam Gloor.
With the field slowly shrinking due to mechanical issues and injuries, round three heat one found Blaine Stephenson first to the checkered followed by Matt Szalai and Tour newcomer Will Garceau. After struggling in the previous round, heat two was taken by Matt Goede. He was pursued by local favorite Travis MacDonald and Michigan driver Luke Olson. The final heat of qualifying saw the 220 of Gunnar Sterne complete the clean sweep with the win followed by Tom Olson and Justin Peterson.
With the long injury delay, the turn around time for the 12-sled LCQ was cut to a minimum. The five-lap shootout found the #39x of Justin Peterson, the #21 of Tyler Obie and the #04 of Luke Olson taking the remaining three sports for the first final of the new season.
With daylight fading, the 3:30 pm 15-lap final was called to the starting line without benefit of the normal driver introductions. Being the No. 1 qualifier, the 220 of Gunnar Sterne grabbed his preferred spot. Qualifying second, the 39 of Tom Olson pulled in next to Sterne. Olson was followed by Szalai, MacDonald, Stephenson, Grendzinski, Goede, Sobetski, Gavin Peterson and Justin Peterson on the front row. Obie and Luke Olson grabbed the back row.
The Woody’s Holeshot Award winner was a bit surprising with the 39x of Justin Peterson first to the turn two exit. Peterson’s time near the front was cut short when the ski of a sled behind him entered the tunnel of the 39x derailing his track and pulling all the side studs. Peterson’s day was done, and he was scored 12th. It didn’t take long for the cream to rise to the top. In less than five laps, Gunnar Sterne had found the lead while being aggressively pursued by Stephenson, Goede, and MacDonald.
Two separate red flags, one each for the 24 of Jordan Sobetski and the 04 of Luke Olson, restacked the field. The first one allowed the Polaris of Stephenson to put a bunch of pressure on Sterne but the West Chicago driver held his line and his lead. The second restart found Sterne out front with pressure from Stephenson, but an uncharacteristic cornering mistake allowed Sterne to stretch the lead. Stephenson’s mistake also allowed both Goede and MacDonald to get around him leading to an all Ski-Doo podium.
Sterne showed incredible speed and consistency winning all three heats and the final. The 15-lap final finishing order was Sterne, MacDonald, Goede, Stephenson, Szalai, Tyler Olson, Grendzinski, Obie, Gavin Peterson, Luke Olson, Sobetski, Justin Peterson.
Round Two of the Prostar Cup Tour finds the drivers at the famous Eagle River Derby Track racing as part of the exciting Friday Night Thunder program. More race details for the January 20 race will be released soon. Driver profiles and point updates can be found on the Tour website ussaprotar.com.
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