March 5, 2008

Race Blood Runs True



Cat traces its racing roots

Arctic Cat makes no bones about the fact it hangs its hat on snowmobile racing. Team Green has a long and successful history of snowmobile racing in most forms of snowmobile racing and this year doesn’t look to be any different.

If you haven’t noticed thus far this snocross race season Team Arctic, led by super snocrosser Tucker Hibbert, is cleaning up.

So what you say. You aren’t really even interested in snowmobile racing and you don’t base your buying decisions on whether green, yellow, blue or red crosses the line first. You just want a good deal on a reliable machine.

Whether you realize it (or even care) or not, some of the best snowmobile R&D taking place these days is one the race course.

That’s why, during the annual sneak peek at the 2009 crop of Arctic Cats, it was almost as interesting to hear what Cat CEO and president Chris Twomey had to say as it was to see what Arctic Cat was revealing for the upcoming season.

Almost.

Racing Roots

Prior to unveiling the 2009 models, Twomey extolled his company’s racing roots and how that heritage has helped Cat engineers develop some of the best sleds on the snow—because they’ve been battle tested on the snocross track as well as in various forms of cross country racing terrain and hillclimbing.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “What wins on Sunday sells on Monday.” Twomey shot that theory full of holes. “All the data shows that what wins on Sunday doesn’t sell on Monday,” he said. “But you do find those features on consumer products one, two or three years later.”

Look at any number of Cat components and you’ll be able to directly trace that heritage to some form of racing.

“Race development is important to us,” Twomey said.

No doubt the boys at Cat like to go fast. That’s why it was no real big surprise when the Z1 Turbo, which Cat claims has the most horsepower of any stock snowmobile on the planet was unveiled in Thief River Falls, MN. The Z1 Turbo flat out flies with its 177 hp. That’s a 50-plus bump in horsepower compared to the 2008 Z1.  We were included in a little radar run set up on a frozen waterway in the netherlands of northern Minnesota. We were able to stretch the legs of that Cat to the tune of about 104 mph as recorded on a radar gun. We were facing a slight head wind and when someone rode it the other way (with the wind), that number crept up to 111 mph. Yea, she goes fast.

But where we had the most fun on the Z1 Turbo was in on the twisty trails. Corner to corner riding was a blast as you squeezed throttle and in an instant you were to the next turn.

Did we mention the Z1 is a four-stroke? A really fast four-stroke?

Some nifty engineering and inherent character traits of turbos allow Cat to boast that on the Z1 Turbo altitude compensation for boost pressure maintains power at any elevation. Also, there are no clutching changes needed to ride at different elevations.

Definitely, the Z1 Turbo is a headliner for the 2009 model year.

Speculation

So, can we speculate just for a moment? Those two last features that were mentioned—the altitude compensation and clutching benefits—really caught our attention. Trail riders in the Midwest don’t really need to worry about altitude compensation and clutching changes at elevation. And we don’t think you’re going to see a pack of Z1 Turbo Cats in the West next season.

Those obvious benefits on the Z1 Turbo beg the question: Can a four-stroke mountain sled from Cat be far off? Of course, Cat officials from top to bottom are mum on the prospect. It’s an interesting idea to say the least. Yamaha is dogged by its weighty four-stroke mountain machines. Can Cat overcome the weight issue and impress with power? Stay tuned.

Now that we’ve briefly discussed the go fast machine from Cat, let’s look at the changes with the M6, the smallest cc sled in Arctic’s mountain line.

The M6 gets all the changes the M8 and M1000 get except the reversed engine. That simply means it loses out on the few pounds of weight savings from that switch in engine direction and the changes to the ACT. The M6 does, however, shed 14 lbs. compared to the 2008 version. The M6 gets the Power Claw track, new skid, new rear tunnel design (bumper, LED light etc.), as well as the changes to the front suspension hardware (aluminum axles, shaved down parts, etc.). All those details are in the M8 story. And they aren’t details you’re gonna want to miss. Cat is working hard to stay in the mountain game and these new changes across the M Series lineup should do the trick.

Crossing The Line

The M Series aren’t the only models that get the reversed engine and resulting weight savings of nearly 10 lbs due to the changes in the ACT drive. Cat’s entire performance lineup of sleds in the 800cc and 1000cc classes get engine reverse. That includes the crossover segment, the Crossfires.

Those drawn to the crossover segment will be interested to know that Cat’s Crossfire 800 and 1000 now come with the 1.25x141-inch Cobra track with a 3-inch pitch. Previous year’s Crossfires were fitted with 136 inch tracks so the extra five inches of length will provide better flotation on those deep snow days off trail. Cat was obviously thinking of what trail riders might think of the longer track and the potential for longer tracks to lose some trailability. The 141-inch track—of course depending on the snow surface (say hardpack trail versus deeper snow)—averages only one more lug on the ground than the 2008 sleds with the 136-inch track.

If you bump up to the Sno Pro version on the Crossfire 800 and 1000 you’ll get the telescoping steering column and Fox Floats in the rear skid. The redesign of the rear portion of the tunnel that the ’09 M Series snowmobiles now have is also found on the Crossfires, which features a one-piece LED taillight housing and snowflap In all, the tunnel is about six inches shorter than the 2008 Crossfires. In fact, if you were to look at just that portion of the snowmobile, you wouldn’t be able to tell the Ms or Crossfires apart.

One reason the SnoWest SnowTest crew is so comfortable on the Crossfires is that they have many of the same characteristics as do the M Series sleds, which makes them more familiar to ride versus some crossover sleds.

Rated R

Cat even went one step farther (or back, depending on how you look at it) with another version of the Crossfire—the Crossfire R. The notable difference between regular Crossfires and the R version (800s and 1000s only) is the track. The Crossfire R, aimed at those trail riders who really crave the Firecat experience of speed, acceleration and handling, comes with a 14x128-inch track. You’re not going to be looking for any deep snow with the R version—leave that to the 141 incher—but you’ve got a little more bite on the trail than the 121 inch trail models.

Is all this enough to keep Cat on the minds of snowmobilers across the snowbelt? Perhaps.

If Cat’s success on race courses across the snowbelt is any indication of things to come, sledders might want to take notice of Cat’s lineup.

We think it’s a winner.








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