Arctic Cat rider Ryan Simons became the 40th person to win the prestigious I-500 cross-country race on February 9 in Thief River Falls, Minn.
The three-day, 500-mile race was hosted by Seven Clans Casino and USXC (United States X-Country Snowmobile Racing) in Thief River Falls, Minn., February 7-9. Riders left Seven Clans Casino each day on three different courses, each approximately 160-miles and each eventually bringing them back to the casino.
The Day 1 course brought riders to the fuel stop in Plummer, Minn., just south of Thief River Falls. After a race delay due to fog, riders enjoyed clear skies and excellent visibility. Simons set the pace with a time of 2:15:43.844, almost three minutes ahead of Arctic Cat rider Cody Kallock (2:18:25.460) and nearly four minutes ahead of Arctic Cat rider Wes Selby (2:19:28.806). After Selby came Aaron Christensen (2:20:30.707), Justin Tate (2:20:35.194) and Corey Davidson (2:22:15.360). Perennial favorite Gabe Bunke was mired in 10th position after leading out and breaking trail most of the day. Notable scratches were 2011 winner Brian Dick (engine) and Chad Lian (engine).
Simons left in seventh position on Day 2, which was nearly a carbon copy of Day 1 weather-wise, but this time the course took riders East and then North of Seven Clans Casino to the fuel stop in Goodridge, Minn. Fog again delayed the race but only for a half hour. Once racing began riders enjoyed excellent visibility for most of the route with only hazy clouds to block the sun. Simons again set the pace, posting a time of 2:06:08.929, over five minutes faster than Bunke who posted the second-fastest time of the day (2:11:13.052). Simons’ two-day combined time was 4:21:49.773, over 10-minutes ahead of the second place sled of Christensen (4:21:49.773). Selby fell back in the running order to 7th because his carburetors iced up on the first leg and Tate fell back to 16th after blowing two belts. Bunke moved up in the order to fourth and Eric Gausen moved up to 6th after having a solid run. A notable scratch was Corey Davidson, whose sled suffered a broken clutch. The running order headed into Day 3 went Simons, Christensen, Kallock, Bunke, Bobby Menne, Gausen, Selby, Ryan Scripture, Cole Nymann and Nate Moritz.
Day 3 dawned gray and mild, with a light freezing mist. The Top 10 racers left according to race time so, unlike the first two days, riders were racing for position on the course. The Day 3 course brought riders North and West of Seven Clans Casino into Warren, Minn., for the fuel stops. The race pace was clearly slower due to flat light and poor visibility from iced goggles. Also, many racers were falling victim to icing and engines were down on power because of the damp air and ice-covered intakes. Simons led the field out and lost time on the first leg to Christensen. Bunke passed Kallock on the river and was in third place before his engine blew. Tate was pushing hard before he hit a clump of ice getting onto the river on the third leg and ripped the a-arms off his Ski-Doo. As the fans waited in staging, Simons finally appeared, crossing the finish line and putting his name in the books as the 40th winner of the I-500 with a final time of 6:56:24.069. Some 11-minutes crawled by until the second place sled of Christensen appeared posting a time of 7:07:54.467. Almost five more minutes dragged by until Kallock (7:12:20.298) rolled over the line. Soon after Eric Gausen (7:17:30.659) appeared followed by a string of racers including Wes Selby (7:21:47.463), Cole Nymann (7:21:55.931), Nate Moritz (7:24:57.949), Spencer Kadlec (7:24:59.108), Ryan Scripture (7:28:02.056) and Jordan Torgerson (7:31:55.626).
“I raced the I-500 in its original format and I can tell you it still holds all the challenges, prestige and excitement it did in its early days,” said USXC owner and winner of the 1976 and 1978 I500 Brian Nelson.