Elk River, Minn. ~ Snowmobile racing returned with a gusto on Friday night, as AMSOIL Championship Snocross, Powered by Ram Trucks finally found its way to the starting line.
The series saw its first event of the new season get underway at ERX Motor Park. When the national series made its last stop at the Elk River, Minn. track in 2012 the fence lines were full of race gas junkies. But the global pandemic that shortened last years championship and brake checked this season meant the opener was done without spectators.
But despite a hollow hillside, the ERX track was built for battles, stretching out into one of the longest tracks ever offered up at an ACS event. Ready to challenge the circuit was an influx of racers, all itching to finally compete for opening night supremacy after nearly two months of practice laps and ten months away from the championship chase.
AMSOIL PRO OPEN: Lemieux Lights Lamp in Opener
A quick glance at the starting line for the AMSOIL Pro final on Friday night and all eyes latched onto the center of the pack. Two-time defending champion Elias Ishoel was there, alongside 2020 runner-up Daniel Benham and heat winner Kody Kamm, a perennial championship contender.
Just on their periphery sat Lincoln Lemieux. Last season, the Ski-Doo rider finished the third overall, but he only found the podium twice. So, while the attention centered around the three men listed above, it was Lemieux who shot out of the darkness to control the early focus in a season long title fight.
The start was all that matter on Friday night. Both for the podium finishers and the back-of-the-pack. It was Lemieux’s race from the start as he grabbed the hole shot with Arctic Cat’s Jacob York and Logan Christian in tow. Those three narrowly escaped the first turn chaos that broke out behind them. Ishoel, Benham and Kamm never got the chance to contend on Friday. The three tangled, leaving them scrambling to get back on their sleds and into the race.
But out front, Lemieux as looking like the contender of two seasons ago. He was smooth and smart, holding off a hard charge from Yurk early on, and then controlling the race lap-after-lap. New in 2021 is the motocross format for the Pro final, ten minutes of run time, plus two laps. No matter how the laps were counted, it was Lemieux’s night as he went wire-to-wire for the win.
“Especially on a cold day, it means so much to get a good start,” said Lemieux. “The guys back in the trailer had the sole ripping’ and I couldn’t do it without them. (As for the start), there were five guys inside of me and I said, ‘hey, I got to beat those five guys to the corner.’
Jacob Yurks’ promising rookie season in the pro class was cut short by injury in 2020. But the young driver started strong, picking up a pair of podiums at Duluth. This season, Yurk was up to his old tricks with a good first day of racing. He was the number two qualifier after winning his second heat while holding of Ishoel for the entire race. His early push on Lemieux in the final didn’t hold up, but he was steady on his way to a second place finish.
“There came a point where it got super icy and I was just trying to avoid the mistakes and be smooth,” said Yurk. “Logan crept up on me at the end. I heard he was sneaking a little bit in those triples.”
Christian was more than sneaky all day at ERX. He was a front runner in every race, and his speed off of the line put him in excellent position to ride strong and finish third, setting the tone for a bounce back year after the veteran finish seventh in 2020.
“I was pushing Jake a little bit at the beginning, and kind of lost some time to him,” said Christian. “I wish I would have searched (for lines) a little bit harder out there, but it’s something to take in for tomorrow.”
Lemieux’s teammate Hunter Patenaude turned in a successful rookie run, finishing fourth in the final. Emil Harr rounded out the top five.
PRO LITE: Peterson Storybook Return
During the 2018-19 AMSOIL Championship Snocross season, Adam Peterson was one of a handful of rookies who shook up the Pro Lite standings. The Polaris rider was a mid-season surprise when he won at Canterbury Park, propelling him to a first year finish of sixth overall.
But the 2020 season would not even be a blip in the racing arc of his career. Peterson saw just two heat races last season before he tore his ACL, which required surgery. That operation came exactly one year ago to the day, January 8, in which he returned to the track and picked up his second career win.
“Yeah, January 8th, 2020, I just got out of knee surgery,” said Peterson atop the podium. “To be able to come back a year later and win this is more than I could have asked for.”
Peterson had no fear in his first final back. The pivotal moment came off the first turn in which he pinned the throttle and railed far around the outside line, holding on the lower edge of a steep rise just enough to squirt past the field and into the lead. His bravado was held in check as he ran smooth lines for the entire race before sealing the win with a celebratory heel clicker at the line.
In second, Ski Doo’s Camryn Anderson looked like he was going to grab the lead after turn one, but there was just enough room for Peterson to slip by and into the lead. Anderson set the fastest lap of the race on the second lap on his way to finishing second.
“The track is pretty tricky,” said Anderson. “You can be going smooth and then it gets icy. It was pretty unpredictable out there. All-in-all it was a good race.”
Hometown rider Taylor Cole (Polaris) struggled in his rookie season of Pro Lite last season before a second place finish at the final race. Cole’s year-to-year improvement was quickly evident at ERX on Friday. Cole entered the final as the number one qualifier. He started behind Anderson and showcased his increased strength on his way to a third place finish.
“Just stay smooth,” said Cole about his mindset during the race. “The tracks been pretty icy all day. I knew if I could stay smooth through that whole race I would find my way up here.”
Korbyn Anderson (Ski-Doo) finished fourth. Andy Pake (Ski-Doo) rounded out the top five in fifth.
Friday Night Thunder: New Season, New Streak?
Megan Brodeur won eleven straight finals to start the season last year, but finished second in the final Pro AM Women’s race of 2020. But with a new season comes the possibility of a new streak as the three-time defending champ returned to her winning ways on Friday night.
Brodeur (Ski-Doo) was the number one qualifier after winning both of her heat races. Unlike her heat races, she was unable to get the hole shot in the final, which went to Makenna Kleiman. After half a lap, it looked like Brodeur was going to overtake Kleiman, but it was a hard-charging Taven Woodie (Arctic Cat) who snuck past the top two riders for the lead. Woodie would hold the spot for three laps before Brodeur was able to push through an inside turn for the lead.
Woodie kept pace but was unable to close the gap on Brodeur. Malene Anderson (Ski Doo), who won final 2020 showdown finished third.
PRO SNOWBIKE: Cowboy Up
Jesse Kirchmeyer won five individual Moto’s last season on his way to a the Pro Snow Bike championship. The man nicknamed “Cowboy” grabbed the first two moto wins in 2021 on his way to the overall win at ERX.
The top three qualifiers, including Kirchmeyer at number one, filled up the Snow Bike podium. Number two qualifier Keaton Ward went 2-2 for second overall. Third qualifier Troy Horbaty finished third in both moto’s to finish third overall.
FXR SPORT: Emeric Legendre Perron (Ski-Doo)led the Sport final early, but just after the AMSOIL Finish Line, he slowed to the side of the turn with mechanical issues. Right on his taillight was Kenny Mandryk who took advantage and set the pace for the remaining four trips around the gigantic ERX track. Ski Doo’s Kyle Kunstman ran well in the opener, finishing second. Beau Tibbetts (Polaris) finished third after a last lap pass.
SPORT LITE: Kolten Krajicek (Arctic Cat) scored the first national event win of the season in Sport Lite. Krajicek was the number one qualifier and lead from the get-go, leading all seven laps. Kellen Chapuran (Ski-Doo) finished second ahead of chance Tietjen (Ski-Doo).
The 2021 AMSOIL Championship Snocross series will be comprised of 16 national rounds, starting at ERX and ending in late March in Grand Rapids, Mich. All events will air on the series live-stream channels, as well as the CBS Sports Network airing in the weeks following the race.
About ISOC: Championship Off-Road andAMSOIL Championship Snocross, Powered by Ram, are owned and operated by the International Series of Champions (ISOC) out of Albertville, Minn. For more information on its events and schedules, go to snocross.com.