AI: A couple weeks ago Arctic Cat dropped a teaser about the new Team Arctic race sleds, and yesterday unveiled the specs and photos. What’s your initial thought on seeing the response to the SX, M and XC?
Zach: Arctic Cat has a strong racing heritage and you don’t realize how many Team Arctic race fans there are, until the company doesn’t build a race sled [referring to 2019/2020 season]. Like so many others, my first thought is it’s great to have Arctic Cat back producing competition snowmobiles keeping Team Arctic racers on top of the podium and fans cheering for the brand. It’s my goal to provide ArcticInsider plenty of opportunities to write race win recap stories this year! [laughs]
AI: I’d assume you had your hand in testing the new XC?
Zach: Last year Team Arctic showed great success across the country. Having raced the same XC for two years, we logged a ton of hours on them. Because we knew every nuance of that unit, when working with Arctic Cat engineers and personnel on the 2021 XC, we had a pretty solid understanding of the changes we wanted to make to continue keeping the XC a formidable winner.
AI: We talked about consumer response a little bit earlier, and a generalized comment I saw on ArcticInsider website and social posts referred to the switch on the XC from a 137- to 129-inch rear skidframe, and also the switch from ARS II to ARS front suspension.
It seems some consumers are scratching their head considering Arctic Cat drew the line in the sand by only offering 137 skidframe lengths and ARS II front suspensions on ZR models.
So, why the change, and was that one of the influences you had when developing the 2021 XC?
Zach: I noticed those comments as well, and they are valid questions. I’ll frame this answer by saying I have logged many, many hours on both a 137- and 129-inch skidframe at the highest competition levels to completely understand and feel the differences between each. Myself and other Team Arctic racers have captured many cross-country podiums and championships on both.
Based on our current race environment (mix of lake and rough terrain), there are reasons to utilize the 129.
“The Nitty-Gritty Changes Get Us Ahead…”
There are Pros and Cons to both lengths and front ends, none of which are bad for the snowmobile, but more or less just suit different riding conditions thrown at us during the course of a race season. It truly comes down to the nitty gritty changes get us ahead.
In timed Cross-Country racing, we are faced with some seriously rough terrain. The more snow, the rougher the course gets, and the deeper the holes. Every second counts when navigating those conditions.
A 129-inch skidframe is outstanding when it comes to rough courses. There is minimum drag and the shorter skidframe provides added nimbleness. It’s a very balanced skidframe that couples smoothly with our stiff shock set-ups. It allows ample preload and “pop” out of those big holes. You can carry that much more momentum through those sections. Again, every second counts.
Top Speed and Handling
We face a near equal amount of lake racing throughout the season, and a lowered 129-inch skidframe handles ice racing like a rocket ship on rails. Again, seconds gained add up to minutes, and if you can gain speed in the corners and straightaways, that is where a cross-country race can be won or lost.
My mechanics and I did extensive speed testing between the 129- and 137-inch skidframes. We found the 137 lost 1-2mph over the 129, and personally, I felt strongly we couldn’t/shouldn’t give any advantage to our competitors.
As far as the switch from ARS II back to ARS front suspensions, without getting technical, those two front suspensions compliment each rear suspension. So, for our conditions and set-ups, the ARS works best with the 129-inch rear skidframe.
Hopefully nobody perceives these comments as negative towards the 137. Truly, there is nothing wrong with that length. And in some terrain, like high speed stutter bumps, the 137 is superior. I have been so confident in Arctic Cat sleds every year since I started racing professionally, and this year is no different. Without doubt I can comfortably hold our ZR’s wide open across all different kinds of terrain and trust that snowmobile to never stray it’s course. To me, that proves how capable this chassis is. It’s pretty incredible.
AI: What other changes to the R XC are important to you, or consumers?
Zach: Weight to us is always a big topic for discussion at the race shop with our XC sleds and how we can slim them down. With snowmobiles, you can always make them lighter, but with that comes the sacrifice of durability. So, we always have to walk a fine line. You can’t win a race if you don’t finish. [laughs] Some may pass it off as a nominal change, but the new lightweight engine plate is an item saving weight without sacrificing durability. And that’s a change consumers can experience on the ZR line of performance trail sleds.
AI: Will you still be racing out of the Factory this winter? Same teammates?
Zach: Our program looks very similar to last year, we will be racing out of the Factory Arctic Cat hauler and based out of Arctic Cat’s race shop in Thief River Falls. David Brown will return as my teammate along with our two mechanics Hector (Hec) and Corey Berberich (Berbs). Our team, personalities and work ethic all jive and this will be the 9th year together chasing and winning championships for Team Arctic fans.
AI: Going with a retro themed graphics package this year?
Zach: You know I love vintage, but that’s a tough question. To be honest, I was thinking the stock Team Arctic graphics look pretty nice this season! I think our team will be sticking with versions of that. But let us know in the comments what you’d like to see. I keep thinking about a 90 EXT Special graphics scheme…
AI: Congrats BTW on receiving the Roger Skime cup for winning the USXC Pro Stock Championship. Anything you want to say regarding the cup?
Zach: Thanks Kale! Boy, I would just like to say I think it was a true testament to Arctic Cat snowmobiles winning that Championship and Roger Skime Cup. Everyone knows we were on 2018 and 2019 race sleds, and we still kicked butt all winter, man that made me proud to ride for Team Arctic. I was incredibly thankful to keep that cup in the hands of Team Arctic and hope to continue that for many years to come!
AI: Any notable Roger stories that came from the Cup presentation?
Zach: Roger, as always, gave an incredible speech in front of a small, very special group of people who in some way, shape or form, had some tie to Arctic Cat. Roger called us all his “Heroes”. It was one of the coolest moments of my career, and I can’t thank everyone involved with that Skime Cup enough for making it happen. Roger is such a great friend of mine and I can’t wait to see him at all our races this winter. He hardly ever misses a race!
AI: Great info Zach. Thanks for taking the time to talk with AI and good luck this season!
Zach: You’re more than welcome.