In one of the most entertaining final races in years, Quebec’s Tim Tremblay overcame a dogfight with three other top competitors to win Friday night’s Pro Open final at the Traxxis-sponsored Canterbury National in Shakopee, Minnesota.
. Before that, however, Tremblay’s main fight this week was with customs agents that almost prevented his appearance at the race – more on that later.
. On an unseasonably warm and windy night, 15 top pros worked their way into the final after two rounds of heat, followed by a last chance qualifier for some competitors.
. The top qualifier was Wisconsin-based Polaris racer Ross Martin, and the season points leader showed his strength right away after the green flag waved, jumping out to an early lead while many sleds traded paint behind him.
. After an initial shuffle, Amsoil Schuering Speed Sports teammates Robbie Malinoski and Darren Mees slotted in at second and third, with Cat racers Dan Ebert and Tucker Hibbert fourth and fifth. Then came Mathieu Morin, Tremblay, Garth Kaufman, recent jump record setter Levi LaVallee and Mike Bauer.
. Four laps into the race, Malinoski started pressuring Martin. The two traded paint a couple of times, with Malinoski running into the back of Martin on one lap, then Martin forcing Malinoski over the burm in the same turn four a lap later. The two ran probably 8 laps never more than 8 sled-lengths apart.
. Meanwhile, the Cats that started up front had issues. Ebert’s sled shut down right in the middle of turn one in a rather precarious location. About four laps later, Hibbert’s sled shut down entering turn three, ending the night for the sport’s most successful and popular driver.
. Soon, Martin and Malinoski found out they weren’t alone up front. Mees was running very strong laps behind them, but Tremblay was all over him trying to grab third. Up front, Martin suddenly seemed a bit out of control on his Polaris.
. Malinoski seized the opportunity, diving to the inside coming out of turn four. He and Martin clacked body panels coming down the front stretch, but neither would make it to turn one with the lead. Instead, Mees dove beneath both of them, and Tremblay stuck his nose in as well. With just a handful of laps left, you could throw a blanket over the top four, and still have room for the family dog.
. With now just seven laps left, Tremblay grabbed the point in turn four, putting a block move on Mees and sprinting away down the front stretch. Mees tried to keep pace, but it was no use – the big strong Canadian was on a mission and pulled away.
. Mees locked into second and looked like a shoo-in for the podium, but then he crashed big on the tabletop jump as he took the white flag, he sled landing in a bad spot on the big side of the jump. That moved Malinoski back up into second, 8 seconds behind Tremblay, and Martin, who faded severely, held on for third, 11 second behind Malinoski. Mathieu Morin claimed fourth, followed by Kaufman. Mees was scored sixth, because he had lapped every other sled before he crashed. Brett Bender, Mike Bauer and Justin Broberg followed.
. After the race, there was elation among the Warnert Racing team for which Tremblay rides. It turns out, it was a rough week. Tremblay had gone home for Christmas and, for whatever reason, had a big paperwork mixup at the border while trying to get back into the United States. For more than 48 hours, Tremblay was held up, finally getting clearance Friday morning, the day of the race.
. Once at the track, his troubled continued. “It was a really tough day for me today,” Tremblay said. “I won the first [heat race], but then I crashed in the second one, then I went to the LCQ and I was mad at myself.” He made up for it in the final, starting in the second row but running away with the final on his Foremost-backed Ski-Doo.
. Malinoski was a solid second, but he seemed just as excited to see his teammate Mees run so strong throughout most of the race. “I was so pumped for him,” Malinoski said before turning his attention to Tremblay. “Hats off to him, he was on a mission, I’m pumped for him and his team, and we’re excited for second.”
Martin didn’t show up for his podium interview at first. The points leader faded so badly at the end of the race that he saw several sleds pass him the last couple of laps, so he figured there was no way he was in the top three. However, most of the sleds that were going by had been lapped by Martin earlier in the race, so he locked down third.
The cause for his fade and his erratic driving: He lost his brakes about halfway through the race. “I was riding that thing like a cowboy,” Martin said with a wide grin. With his third, he’ll retain his points lead going into Saturday’s racing.
Earlier in the evening in Friday night’s Pro Lite final, Derek Ellis got the quick start on his Ski-Doo and pulled away to a somewhat comfortable lead up front, but there was chaos behind him. Travis Muller ran second for awhile but race officials ruled he jumped in a yellow-flag area and earned a black flag. Instead of pulling over right away, however, he continue for a lap, lost control of his sled and ended up crashing and also taking out Andy Lieders, who had worked his way up to third.
All of this carnage, plus his own hard-charging efforts, brought the No. 2 qualifier forward. Kody Kamm was in full charge mode on his Hentges Racing Polaris, trying different lines and slowing down for nothing. Soon, he was champing at Ellis’ snowflap. We don’t know if it was that pressure or just bad timing, but with a couple of laps left and Kamm right behind him, Ellis cased a couple of jumps in a row, went into turn three out of control and went over the snowbank and was separated from his ride.
That allowed Kamm to race away to an 8.8 second victory over LCQ qualifier David Joanis, and he was followed across the finish line by his teammate, best friend and wintertime housemate Joey Sagen.