2011 Amsoil World Championship Snowmobile Derby
The tightest contest in years ended with PJ Wanderscheid holding his fourth victory trophy at the World Championship Snowmobile Derby in Eagle River, Wisconsin. Wanderscheid (#28 Arctic Cat) and Gary Moyle (#66 Ski-Doo) chased each other for the lead in the 30-lap race, and when it was over the two men congratulated each other over the finest racing they could imagine.
“It was amazing, racing side-by-side like that,” Wanderscheid said. “You couldn’t have it any better. He drove his line, he gave me room, just the same as I did for him. He had more steam out of the corner and I was running down low.”
Staying tight on the inside meant Wanderscheid couldn’t benefit from the inclined turns that make Eagle River unique in snowmobile racing, and his arms were aching through the awards ceremony. “Down low is tough. I train a lot for this stuff and I’m shot. I’m done,” Wanderscheid said. Off-Road.com was first to interview Wanderscheid after his victory lap. “This is everything. This is the dream come true,” he said. “Nobody’s ever won this race four times. That was my goal. I met my goal. I guess now I got to try for five now!”
Two-time champ Moyle took the lead position early and held it comfortably to lap 15, when new rules called for a pit stop. Fluids and frames were checked over by every team except the crew of 2010 champion Matt Schultz (#38 Ski-Doo), who was watching on in frustration after early engine trouble pulled him from the race.
Wanderscheid actually took those five minutes to pedal on a stationary bicycle in the center of the track. “It worked, man,” he explained afterward. “I just wanted to keep my muscles loose and not tense up. When I got on the sled my muscles tensed up right away. Then they kind of relaxed and everything came into the groove. I was less tired at the end of these 15 laps than I was after the first 15.”
The restart after that rest was short-lived after #39 Brian Bewcyk’s Ski-Doo broke in the first turn. He’d hoped to add 2011 to his victories of 2008 and 2009, but he couldn’t finish the second half. Before the race restarted, Bewcyk was joined in the pits by Brandon Johnson (#22 Polaris), who had noticed a major coolant leak as he prepared for the restart.
Moyle had the lead spot at that second green flag and seemed to keep it easily until lap 19 when Wanderscheid poured on the speed, surprising Moyle and the crowd to start off a harrowing two-man fight for the finish.
“I had a good lead,” Moyle recalled. “Later in the race the ice got a little dirtier and I had to pick my lines more selectively. PJ’s the king of running down low, and I guess he just proved it again today.” Moyle said the track became extremely rough, and in one spot their tracks tore through the ice to reveal dirt that each racer needed to avoid.
As Moyle consistently sped along lines midway along the track and Wanderscheid kept tight and low, both men took and lost the lead several times, and Wanderscheid ultimately won by .375 seconds.
Lap 16 started with Jacques Villeneuve (#96 Ski-Doo) in ninth place, but that meant little to the man who won this race in 1980, ‘82 and ‘96. “I would have liked to go for the fourth time but PJ did it before me,” he said.
The break mid-race meant a lot to the 57-year-old. “I’m not in the shape that these guys are, probably,” he said. “It’s tough physically, no doubt, but it worked for me. You take what you can.” Battling from behind meant charging through a lot of ice dust. “You see nothing. Basically, you see white,” he explained. “Sometimes you feel like you have bigger balls than the other guys and you go farther down the corner. Those guys pay more attention than me. They go inside where the bumps are. I go outside where it’s smooth. It takes more time but you get out of there with more speed. It did work for me. But it is touchy; you could lose it any time.”
Villeneuve squeezed by Malcolm Chartier (#33 Ski-Doo) in the last lap to reach the podium. One lap earlier he overtook Nicholas Van Strydonk (#13 Polaris), who began the second half in third place but rolled in at eight place with mechanical problems.
Each of them knows no other victory this year can mean as much as the championship in Eagle River. As Villeneuve said, “Eagle River is Eagle River. That’s all there is. It’s the only place.” His team drove 1,000 miles to be there.