Fargo, N.D. ~ If something is ironic it means that it is happening in the opposite way to what is expected, and typically causes wry amusement because of this. Having the opening round of AMSOIL Championship Snocross, Powered by RAM canceled because of a snowstorm would easily fall into a state of irony. As Mother Nature won in Duluth on Thanksgiving weekend thanks to more than 20-inches of snow in a 24-hour period, the official season opener kicked off in grand fashion as part of a triple header weekend in Fargo on Friday night.
Pihlaja Pounces as Yurk Impresses in Pro Opener
Two years ago, Jacob Yurk was wrapping up the Pro Lite championship that saw the Grand Blanc, Mich. native win six finals and total nine podiums. Last season, he missed four finals, two weekends of racing and finished 13th overall. Despite the down year, the Arctic Cat driver found health and a new ride with Zandstra Motorsports. He also made the step up to the Pro class this season and he quickly showcased his once-dormant championship form at the opener in Fargo.
Yurk was the number one qualifier and kept with the unconventional theme in the main, choosing to line up on the far left, or the outside, for the start of the 16-lap final. As the night progressed at Buffalo River Race Park, most of the hole shots and wins were found by lining up inside. But Yurk dropped the hammer on the field and came through the big, sweeping first turn with the lead.
He had a bevy of speedsters in his roost, including Ski Doo’s Aki Pihlaja who came bar-to-bar with Yurk as the pair crossed the finish line. In tow was Ski Doo’s Lincoln Lemieux, just a sled-length behind the leaders. Pihlaja made his first move just past the finish line to take the lead, but Yurk quickly returned the favor and held point for the next few laps. As the two kept pace, lapped traffic came into play on lap eight, and Pihlaja used his experience to work through the back-markers and take the lead for good.
“I was behind (Yurk) for quite some time, and he just had better lines than I did,” said Pihlaja after the race. “I was able to keep pace and I finally found some better lines and was able to get by him.”
Yurk settled into second for his first podium in two years, and talked about coming into the season with an open mind and keeping things simple:
“Our goal is to get solid, consistent finishes, and show everyone that Arctic Cat is still the best sled on the track. This was a good start.”
Behind the leaders, it seemed that Lemieux was set to round out the podium. With two laps remaining, he quickly found himself stuck in the middle between Polaris’ Oskar Norum and defending champion Elias Ishoel, who had worked his way up from just inside the top ten at the start of the race. The inside position that Norum held on the pass of Lemieux proved beneficial, as the rookie from Sweden held off Ishoel for third.
Patenaude Opens with Win in Title Defense
Ski Doo’s Hunter Patenaude finished the 2018-2019 season on a tear as the defending Pro Lite champion separated himself from the field by winning six of the last eight finals. He decided not to wait so long this season by winning the opening round in similar dominant fashion.
Patenaude grabbed the number two qualifier spot on Friday night, and while fellow Ski Doo rider Francis Pelletier lined up in the middle of the front row, Patenaude tucked in tight to the inside. With the flip of the green flag, the 15 Pro Lite riders roared around turn one, and it was the blue ski tips jutting out of the #208 AMSOIL sled that led the way. The Vermont-native railed around the big sweeper before the finish line and led the charge out front for the entire race.
“I just got a really good start and the clutching was just dialed in,” said Patenaude after his third straight win. “The whoops are a little tight, and if you hoped to get through clean on every lap, you had to have a good set-up and we did tonight. It’s a great way to start off the season.”
Pelletier, the number one qualifier on Friday, was pressured early by last year’s Sport class runner-up Andy Pake. Pelletier would find cleaner lines once he was able to work through lapped traffic, but couldn’t make up enough time to catch Patenaude. Pake finished third.
Friday Night Lights
Defending champions held point at the season opener.
The cowboy hat made its inaugural trip to the podium this year as Jesse Kirchmeyer took the overall in the revamped Snowbike class. Showtime won both moto’s on Friday night, holding off Yanick Boucher and Keaton Ward for the overall win. Kirchmeyer is the defending ACS Snowbike champion.
Ski Doo’s Megan Brodeur won eleven Pro Am Women’s final on her way to the championship last season. She picked up where she left off, taking the win in Fargo over Arctic Cat’s Taven Woodie and Polaris’ Inanna Hauger.
Ski Doo’s Jordan Lebel was a force in Sport Lite in 2018-2019, winning nine finals. The Boss Racing/Ski Doo rider moved up a class this season, but didn’t leave the winning behind as he picked up the first win of the year in Sport.