After leading 15 of the 18 laps in the season’s first national snocross final on Saturday night, Lincoln Lemieux returned for a Sunday matinee and left nothing to chance – this time leading every single moment of the Pro final in round two at Duluth, Minnesota, earning a benchmark victory in the process.
That may make Lemieux’s path to the top step on Sunday afternoon’s post-race podium sound smooth, but it was anything-but-that. Indeed, trouble in heat races meant that Lemieux was have to go through Sunday’s last-chance qualifier race to even make it to the big dance. After that he would start the final with what everybody considered the least desirable starting position – the far outside.
However, instead of getting bottled up or shoved off-track in the first corner, Lemieux nailed a killer holeshot, jetted through the first turn and then pulled away from the 14 other sleds in the final en route to a dominating victory on the ISOC Amsoil Championship Snocross series that happened to occur on his 25th birthday.
Land Of Lincoln
Some folks feared whether a full Pro field (meaning, more than 15 drivers) would show up at most ISOC events this year, but Duluth’s early timing – with racing a month before any other major circuit in North America gets rolling – resulted in many drivers who will normally follow other circuits showing up to compete. And that, in turn, resulted in some of the sport’s top drivers not even qualifying for the final in Sunday’s Round 2.
Indeed, top runners like Logan Christian and Petter Narsa were eliminated in the last-chance qualifier, setting up a unique field for the final.
The top qualifier after sweeping his heats was 2017 Pro champ Kody Kamm on a Polaris, who joined in the front row, in order of heat-points-earned, by Adam Renheim (Ski-Doo), Aki Pihlaja (Ski-Doo), Daniel Benham (Arctic Cat), Saturday night winner Elias Ishoel (Ski-Doo), Tim Tremblay (Ski-Doo), Kyle Pallin (Polaris), Ontario’s Jake Weir (Arctic Cat) and Travis Muller (Arctic Cat).
Lemieux won the last-chance qualifier race and grabbed the 10th front-row starting position. Starting in the second row (listed in order of finish in the last-chance race) were Montana Jess (Arctic Cat), Corin Todd (Polaris), Dave Joanis (Polaris), Johan Lidman (Arctic Cat) and Brett Nastala (Arctic Cat).
As the LCQ entrant, Lemieux was the last of the front-row Joes to select his starting spot on the line, so he got stuck with the far-outside – generally considered a danger zone all weekend. But when the starting lights flashed green, his No. 13 Scheuring Speed Sports Ski-Doo hooked up firmly and launched hard in front of the field, and somehow he made it through the first turn without being touched.
Pretty much everybody else did trade paint, however! Kamm got pinched out coming down the first hill, forced his way through traffic, bounced off of a couple sleds in mid corner and emerged from the turn third, behind Pihlaja.
Pro rookie Pihlaja held second for another 1.5 laps, but soon succumbed to an inside-out move by Kamm, who squared up at the top of the hill and railed an inside line to claim second behind Lemieux. Tremblay locked onto fourth, followed by Ishoel, Pallin, Renheim, Benham, Muller, Lidman, Todd, Jess, Weir, Joanis and Nastala after two of the races 18 laps.
Lemieux had a couple of interesting bobbles the first couple laps, including one that looked close to a sure-to-highside sort of incident, but he held fast and opened a 2-second lead after three laps that evaporated down to 0.96 seconds after a rough fourth lap.
After that, though, Kamm never got another strong sniff of Lemieux, who settled into a fast pace and pulled away.
Behind those two, though, a ferocious battle was setting up between Pihlaja and Tremblay for third, with Ishoel close behind. Tremblay grabbed the third spot momentarily but then Pihlaja grabbed it back on a downhill – though his move proved to be too aggressive. He crashed right in front of Tremblay, and Tremblay had to go into full lock-down mode and came off his sled trying to avoid Pihlaja.
That handed third to Ishoel. Pihlaja pulled off the track but Tremblay remounted his sled and re-engaged at mid-pack.
The top three held that order to the end. There were times when Lemieux’s lead would balloon out to 6 seconds over Kamm, and then Kamm would claw back a few seconds and narrow the gap. Similarly, Ishoel got close to Kamm a couple of times as the sleds weaved through traffic but then Kamm would get away again.
In the end, the checkered flag waved on Sunday for Lemieux, who didn’t tire or get caught up in lapped traffic like the night before and earned a big victory at the home track for his primary sponsor, Amsoil. Next came Kamm and Ishoel, with Renheim fourth, Tremblay recovered for fifth and Pallin was sixth. Benham, Todd, Lidman and Muller rounded out the top 10.
When interviewed post-race by the race circuit’s Chelsie Skorich, Lemieux said the final was anything but easy, despite leading the whole way.
“I don’t know how clean it was because I felt like I almost fell off like three times in the first three laps,” Lemieux said, “but I finally calmed down and I found some lines that I knew were going to form at the end of the race and I just took those and rode my own race.
“There were a lot of ice edges out there – you know, it was 40 degrees on Friday and now it’s 15 degrees today,” Lemieux added later. “The groomer guys did the best they could but there were ice edges everywhere; I found a few of them and almost fell off but I hung on and after that I ran a smooth race, which was most important. I actually breathed today – last night I didn’t at all, so that was great.”
Kamm earned his first podium of the year and was looking forward to better times ahead.
“Today I definitely got around the first turn a lot better, and rode the final a little bit smoother and smarter than I was last night,” Kamm said. “I’m just happy to be back and ready for a good season this year.”
Ishoel earned his second podium of the weekend after winning on Saturday night.
“It feels good to be back, it feels like I’ve got the speed and everything and the team is working so hard,” Ishoel said.
Pro Lite To Leo Patenaude
In Pro-Lite, Leo Patenaude was the clear class of the field on this overcast Sunday, as he got the lead on the first lap and was never seriously challenged afterwards, winning by almost 7 seconds.
That’s not to say, however, that the race wasn’t eventful. When the lights flashed green and the pack of 15 sleds headed down the hill for the first time, anybody who had been watching all weekend knew there would be a shakeout in that first tight turn.
What those observers wouldn’t have expected, however, was that a sled and driver would leave the main course and end up sideways in front of the pack as the pack was squaring up to leave the turn and head up the hill!
That sled was driven by Alexander Bergland, and him driving toward on-coming traffic and then accidentally parking in front of it created pure chaos for a moment. When he re-engaged the gas and pulled off the track, it was Patenaude on the No. 200 Ingles Performance Ski-Doo that charged back up the hill in the front.
The East Coast racer would never trail, putting down one strong lap after another – including the fastest lap of the final, when he ran the course is 35.075 seconds on lap four, when he opened up what turned into an insurmountable lead. By lap 10 of the 15-lap final, his lead was up to 7.5 seconds and he won the race by 6.5 seconds, with Francis Pelltier second on the No. 220 Warnert Racing Ski-Doo, with Martin Molland third on the Fratallone Racing Arctic Cat.
“Just getting through that first corner in super important,” Patenaude said after the race. “You can come into it in first and still come out in, like, tenth,” he said, noting that he got caught up in a huge crash on the first lap of Saturday night’s final and never fully recovered.
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