Defending champ starts season with a statement
Professional snocross’ all-time winningest racer, Monster/Arctic Cat/Ram’s Tucker Hibbert, has been racing at Duluth’s Spirit Mountain for 15 years. He tapped into that vast experience by sweeping both rounds on the opening weekend of the 2014-15 AMSOIL Championship Snocross series.
In Saturday night’s Pro Open main event, Hibbert got a poor jump off the start in the main event and was pinched off down the straightaway and back into sixth place. Pulling the holeshot and leading was Hibbert’s chief rival, No. 2 overall Pro Open finisher last year, Kody Kamm (Hentges Racing/Polaris).
With Kamm up front and Mystic/Loctite/Polaris’ Kyle Pallin close behind in second, the two took charge of the first half of the race. But Hibbert began to stalk the leaders, moving up to fifth place by lap three, then past Logan Christian (Christian Bros./Arctic Cat) in to third place by lap six.
Kamm enjoyed a four second lead at lap six, but Hibbert kept on the gas and cut a second off Kamm’s lead on each ensuing lap. Just after the halfway point (Lap 12 of 20) Kamm, Pallin and Hibbert were all within a sled length of each other in the corners. Hibbert first got past Pallin, then was up onto Kamm. The anticipated battle only lasted about a half a lap as Kamm suffered some arm pump and wasn’t able to keep his speed up in the tricky uphill rhythm section.
“My arms started to get a little bit tired and I faded on the uphill – and that’s where the guys got me,” says Kamm.
Hibbert, who lapped the entire field at last year’s Saturday AMSOIL Duluth National opener, put the hammer down and distanced himself from the rest of the pack – making up for his mid-pack start with a powerful charge to the front and equally strong finish.
“I was late on the start, got pinched right away, and had to back out and check-up,” says Hibbert. “But that was one wild race. I gave it everything I had.”
In their battle for second and third Pallin and Kamm got together – mid-air – and landed with their skis tangled. But the two (along with Hibbert) had such a lead over the rest of the field that it didn’t matter as Kamm held onto second and Pallin third.
“It was a crazy race,” says Pallin. “I went to make a move on Kody (Kamm) late and we collided in the air. I was like ‘Oh no! There goes the race.’ So I’m happy to be up here on the podium in third.”
Rounding out the top five in the Pro Open class were Tim Tremblay (AMSOIL/Scheuring/Ski-Doo) in fourth and Justin Broberg (Hentges Racing/Polaris) in fifth.
Conditions were a little rougher for Sunday’s Pro Open main event, but the end result was the same. This time, however, he grabbed an early lead and never looked back, leading every lap of the race despite issues with visibility.
“It was rough out there today,” says Hibbert. “The snow dust made visibility very difficult. I rode a lot on memory.”
With snow dust lingering across the track as the afternoon winds died down atop Spirit Mountain, Hibbert dance through a field of lapped traffic, more or less unable to clearly see what was ahead of him. Enduring the conditions better than anyone on the track, Hibbert managed to still put time on the second and third place racers, Mystic/Loctite/Polaris’ Kyle Pallin and AMSOIL/Scheuring/Ski-Doo’s Lincoln Lemieux.
“I was able to grab the holeshot, but once Tucker got out in front there was no catching him,” says Pallin, who scored his second podium of the weekend with a second place finish.
Hibbert employed a different strategy off the start, one that looked to pay off with a second place run up the hill and into the first corner for the defending Pro Open champ. Using the center pole of the starting structure as a bit of a basketball-like pick on the rider staged to his left, Hibbert avoided being pinched off on the start – like what happened to him on Saturday night – and came out of the first turn in second behind Pallin.
One turn later on the oval course Hibbert dove into the inside of Pallin, beat him to the apex, and pulled Michigan native up back up to the top of the ski hill through the rhythm section. From there Hibbert clicked off fast lap after fast lap, eventually winning by 12.5 seconds. Pallin rode a great race for second, as did Lemieux – scoring his first-ever podium in the Pro Open class in third.
Starting out of the back row after suffering mechanical issues earlier in the day (then winning the LCQ) was Hentges/Polaris’ Kody Kamm. Last year’s Pro Open overall point runner-up to Hibbert, Kamm put on a spectacular ride in Saturday’s main event, rocketing from 11th to fifth place by the fifth lap. Then, when Ross Martin (DuPont/Jack Links/Polaris) suffered a mechanical issue in the middle of the rhythm section on lap six, Kamm inherited fourth place – and some important overall points.
Overall Pro Open Points (2 of 16 rounds) 1 – Tucker Hibbert, 90 2 – Kyle Pallin, 81 3 – Kody Kamm, 68 4 – Tim Tremblay, 68 5 – Logan Christian, 68
Rocketing virtually out of nowhere to win the Pro Lites on Saturday was Norwegian teenager Elias Ishoel. Running the Warnert Racing-tuned NSK/Makita Ski-Doo, Ishoel took the lead from Wisconsin’s Travis Kern (KC Motorsports/Arctic Cat) on lap two, diving low when Kern went high on the course’s bottom turn.
Ishoel kept it on the main jet, pulling the rest of the field through the rhythm section to the top of Spirit Mountain. He stayed on it through the 14 laps and was never challenged, impressive for a 16-year-old in his first-ever AMSOIL Championship Snocross Pro Lite main event.
“Thank you for everybody that helped me. Mom and dad, Warnert Racing – everybody,” says Ishoel, doing his best on the podium with the English language. “It feels so great right now.”
With Ishoel established up front, Kern and fellow Wisconsin native Jake Angove (Polaris) moved into second and third, well ahead of No. 1 Duluth Pro Lite qualifier Trevor Leighton (Leighton Motorsports/Polaris) and last year’s Duluth Pro Lite winner James Johnstad (Judnick Motorsports/Polaris).
As the rookies battled up front at the midway point, Johnstad was charging hard and moved past Angove on lap eight. Going all out to catch the frontrunners, Johnstad would go down and Angove moved back into podium position (third).
When the fire pots lit, signaling the first racer across the finish line, Angove had second place and Kern grabbed third. Rounding out the top five were Andrew Carlson (Carlson Motorsports/Polaris) in fourth and Travis Muller (Cottew Motorsports/Polaris) in fifth.
All kinds of chaos off the start of Sunday’s Pro Lite main event saw Judnick Motorsport/Polaris’ James Johnstad, who won at the AMSOIL Duluth opener last year, get sideways at the start of the uphill rhythm section and collect at least five sleds. But making it through the carnage and into the early race lead was Carlson Motorsports/Polaris’ Ryan Springer.
The rookie racer out of St. Francis, Minn. was unstoppable on the day, leading the entire race and winning over teammate Andrew Carlson (third).
“Yesterday was a tough day, ended my night in the LCQ,” says Springer, who became the weekend’s second rookie racer to win a Pro Lite main event after Elias Ishoel won on Friday. “So to take the holeshot and the win is a good feeling.”
Springer’s mastery of the rugged course earned him more than a second-a-lap on his teammate Carlson, along with eventual runner-up Zak Mason (Leighton Motorsports/Polaris).
With Springer checked out in the later laps, Mason made a charge on Carlson. The two diced a bit heading into lap 11, with Mason eventually getting by Carlson and locking down second place through the checkers. Following Carlson to round out the top five were Trevor Leighton (Leighton Motorsports/Polaris) and Corey Watkinson (Watkinson Motorsports/Arctic Cat).
Overall Pro Lite Points (2 of 16 rounds) 1 – Andrew Carlson, 73 2 – Elias Ishoel, 71 3 – Zak Mason, 68 4 – Trevor Leighton, 68 5 – Travis Kern, 67