Tucker Hibbert completed his opening weekend sweep with the Pro Open snocross victory Sunday afternoon in Duluth, Minnesota. But, before you yawn and think “some-old, same-old,” you should know that this is shaping up to be a very interesting season on the ISOC circuit.
Defending Pro Open point champ Ross Martin gave Hibbert everything he could handle, leading 16 of the 18 laps in the final. Beyond that, guys like Brett Turcotte and Johan Lidman proved to be tough competition. Yes, Hibbert is still the class of the field, but there appear to be more drivers capable of giving him a challenge this year.
Unlike in Pro Stock the night before, Hibbert looked strong in his heat races Sunday afternoon and came into the final as a high qualifier.
The final was held under blue skies decorated with high wispy clouds. The sun was hanging low in the sky behind the chalet, leaving most of the track in the shade.
On green, Martin nudged ahead slightly as the 15 qualifying sleds powered into the tight first turn, but Hibbert was right with him. As they came past the flagman the first time, it was Martin’s Jack Link’s sponsored Polaris, then Hibbert’s Speedwerx Cat, followed by Ryan Simons’ Cat, Turcotte Ski-Doo and Garth Kaufman Cat. Martin eased out to about a five sled-length lead on the second time through the downhill moguls.
The track was in rough shape, with odd-shaped and oddly-timed moguls creating a minefield for the racers. By the third lap, the top two started to pull away from the pack – it was clear Hibbert and Martin would settle this between themselves. Turcotte slotted firmly into third. The big mover in traffic was Carlson Motorsport’s Swedish import Johan Lidman. He ran sixth the first couple of laps, then worked past Kaufman, then Simons and even Kaufman by lap 8. Matheiu Morin was also working his way forward from the back. Logan Christian had the race’s big off, bouncing off his sled on the backstretch of lap 4.
Throughout the race, Hibbert made several charges, getting to within a sled length of Martin, but then he’d hit a mogul wrong or Martin would find a boost of energy and charge back into a 5-10 sled length lead. At the halfway point, Martin was starting to open up even more, building his lead to over 2 seconds. Meanwhile, those top two racers continued to pull away and drive though lapped traffic.
But Hibbert isn’t the sport’s most winning driver without reason. He was spending the race finding lines and picking his spots. With 2.5 laps to go, he dove past Martin at the top of the hill and then spent the rest of the race pulling away. In the end, he claimed victory by 4.4 seconds over a somewhat dejected Martin.
The race wasn’t over, though. Three-quarters of a lap behind then, Turcotte and Lidman were locked in a viscous battle for the final spot on the podium. Turcotte ended up retaking the third spot on a final desperate charge toward the waving checkered flag. Lidman was giving it his all though, launching himself over the tabletop jump at warp speed and slamming himself hard into the handlebars and then the ground on his landing.
After the race, Hibbert was drenched with sweat, and was wearing a proud smile.
“I knew we were going to have to work hard and put our head down this weekend, and we got a couple wins, so I’m pretty thankful,” Hibbert said. Later he gave away one of his secrets.
“I had a good line up on the top of the hill where I was making up a lot of time. I was fortunately that [Martin] didn’t find it.”
Martin was smiling after the race, but it seemed forced. The racer from Kansasville, Wisconsin, admitted being less than pleased.
“No, I’m not happy with second at all,” Martin offered. “I guess I’ve got to work harder. If I can lead that long, I can learn to lead a little longer.”
“Coming down the downhill [Hibbert] found a good line,” he said in explaining the pass. “It was brutal out there – I don’t think anybody had great lines.”
Turcotte was jacked up to be on the podium, but he’s pushing for more.
“We’ve been working so hard, we’ve been testing and training, it’s been a long time coming,” Turcotte said, before pledging to try to climb higher on the podium in two weeks in Fargo, the host of the next ISOC National.
Lidman finished fourth, with Tremblay holding the last spot on the lead lap in fifth. The rest of the field, in order, was Simons, Kaufman, TJ Gulla, Iain Hayden, Mathieu Morin, Dan Ebert, Bobby LePage, Justin Broberg, Wes Selby and Logan Christian.
<b>Look for more coverage, a photo essay and wrap-ups of other classes this week here on this web site.</b>