Medina, Minn. – Near-blizzard conditions caused several delays and the eventual early end to the annual Soo I-500 snowmobile enduro race on Saturday, Feb. 7, and three-time defending champion Bunke Racing was denied in its attempt to become the first team to win the race four straight times.
The bad weather and an untimely pit stop during a caution period cost the Bunke Racing team of Gabe Bunke, Aaron Christensen and Taylor Bunke what would have been a historic victory. The Bunke Racing sled was in the lead when the yellow flag flew so the track could be plowed. The team pitted during that caution and returned to the track in third place. Unfortunately, the race was red-flagged shortly thereafter, and then was called off without a resumption of green-flag racing, so the Bunke Racing team on sled No. 74 finished third.
Polaris snowmobiles dominated the Soo field, as 26 of the 38 starting teams were racing on Polaris, and in the final standings, three of the top five teams and 16 of the top 19 were on Polaris sleds.
The race was red-flagged after 282 of the scheduled 500 laps on the legendary Sault Ste. Marie, MI, 1-mile ice oval. Along with the No. 74 Bunke Racing sled in third place, the No. 537 Bunke Racing sled—whose drivers included Ryan Faust, Travis Faust and Alex Hetteen—finished fourth and the Piche Performance No. 32 Polaris sled with drivers Young, Ball, and Vermeersch finished fifth.
Constant snowfall and steady winds on race day severely limited racers’ visibility throughout the race. When race organizers red-flagged the race after 282 laps, they hoped a break in the weather would allow them to resume the event. The snowfall continued, however, and weather radar showed it would likely snow well into the evening, so organizers declared the race was over.
Polaris race teams finishing in the top 10 were:
3. Bunke Racing (No. 74 sled)
4. Bunke Racing 2 (No. 537)
5. Piche Performance (No. 32)
6. Team Blu (No. 02)
7. Beard Motorsports (No. 14)
8. Christian Brothers Racing (No. 52)
9. XLT Engineering (No. 3)
10. LMB Speedshop (No. 5)
Polaris race sleds also dominated Soo I-500 qualifying as Polaris teams filled eight of the top 10 starting positions. Flannery Racing posted the fastest qualifying time on its Polaris sled and started on the pole. The highest-finishing team, the No. 74 Bunke Racing sled, started 12th, one slot ahead of the No. 537 Bunke Racing sled.
Flannery Racing also was fastest in the Woody’s Challenge, a preliminary feature race held Thursday, Feb. 5. Co-drivers Jeff Leuenberger and Aaron Giles drove their No. 60 Polaris sled to an easy victory in the Woody’s Challenge and four more Polaris sleds finished in the top seven: Christian Brothers Racing was third, Bunke Racing (No. 74) was fourth, Piche Performance was sixth, and Bunke Racing 2 (No. 537) was seventh.