It was an unseasonably warm winter day this past Sunday when racers descended onto the far north portion of Gull Lake for the first round of the 2015 Canadian Motorcycle Association Alberta Provincial Ice Racing Championship Series.
With temperatures climbing upwards of zero, rare for a mid-February day, the high-speed event gathered a flock of spectators, eager to see what all the noise was about amongst the normal easy-going chatter of ice fishers and snowmobilers that usually frequent the lake.
Ice racing is a sport featuring dirt bike riders and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) that compete on an oval-shaped track on a frozen lake with studded tires for added grip on the icy surface.
Organized by the Second Gear Club (SGC), the first-round event had motorcycles, quads and side-by-side ATVs ripping around the oval at speeds upwards of 140 km/h, with racers aiming to collect provincial points for the series.
“We were very pleased with how it went,” said SGC event organizer Rhonda Pechout. “Over the last two years the conditions haven’t been that great and last year we had to cancel the entire series. This year we actually had snow.”
Previously scheduled races at Cow Lake, near Rocky Mountain House, and Innisfail in January and early February were cancelled by organizers due to sub-par racing conditions. “The ice conditions at Cow Lake were poor,” said Pechout. “There was too much snow and only six inches of ice.”
For ice racing, the ice conditions must be perfect. Too much snow can derail the races. Too warm of weather can leave the ice in an unfavourable state for riders. To create the oval, it takes a plow team and considerable funds, so organizers wanted to ensure the scheduled races were going to be a success.
Due to the other cancelled races in 2015, the Gull Lake oval and sprint races were the first ride of the season for competitors.
“It was wonderful,” said Pechout. “There were lots of local riders and new riders, both novice and intermediate. The classes were not full but the races showed a lot of promise for the future expansion of the series, now that we have ice again.”
The SGC ridership has been lower over the past two years, with the numerous cancelled races, but with the season back on schedule, new riders have been taking advantage of fewer racers in heats to hone their skills.
SGC has secured two other Alberta lakes, Pigeon Lake and Bear Hills near Wetaskiwin, and hopes to build up the provincial series next year. For 2015, riders will have to sit tight with a three-race series.
The event kicked-off first on Saturday (Feb. 14th) with two-way sprint races. The sprint races were open to club members, with racers roaring up and down a 1.5 km track.
On Sunday, close to 50 riders, totalling 80 entries in multiple classes, made good of the favourable conditions and gave spectators quite a thrill. There were a few wipeouts, and luckily no injuries, so a good time was had by all.
The second and third rounds of the Alberta Ice Racing Championship Series are planned for Pigeon Lake on Feb. 21st and 22nd and Lac La Biche on March 1st.
Sylvan Lake is also a tentative race location for March 14th and 15th.
“Sylvan Lake is always in our back pocket,” said Pechout. “We have authorization to race there this year but we feel we have booked the race a bit late, so it feels best to pull off three strong races for 2015 and then hit the season early in 2016 and grow the series.”