Winner of 45th I-500
Maybe Bunke Racing has done what few teams have in the 45 years of the International 500 Snowmobile Race: figure out how to dominate the ever-changing track and conditions. Gabe Bunke and Aaron Christensen won the I-500 for the second straight year and fourth time overall on the No. 74 Bunke Racing Polaris, with the No. 537 Bunke Racing 2 Polaris with Ryan Faust and Travis Faust second. The 131 Racing Team featured a Bunke Racing driver, Bobby Menne along with Mike Babcock and Ivan Hansen.
“We’ve never figured it out,” Bunke said. “We certainly worked hard in the off-season, and we came out with three bulletproof sleds. There were a lot of Polaris's out here today, and they did pretty well. Hopefully we can carry it along next year and other years. It’s the 45th race, it was dedicated to my good friend Leroy Lindblad, it’s pretty special.”
The No. 74 Polaris swapped places with the No. 537 team of Ryan Faust and Travis Faust over the last 50 laps. Race officials ended the race after 454 laps because snow dust combined with dusk and light winds reduced visibility to unsafe levels.
“The Faust boys ran a heck of a race,” Bunke said. “And Bobby Menne, we built the (131 Racing) sled in our shop. We didn’t have the same program for him, but he didn’t do bad for his first time. It was an awesome day.”
During the last green flag racing, Bunke passed Ryan Faust to retake the lead, which had been going back-and-forth between the two Bunke sleds most of the afternoon, with each using the high line on the track to pull away from any potential competitors. The 131 Racing Team fought its way back onto the lead lap and would have started from the back of the back if the race had continued past lap 454.
“They (Fausts) wanted this as bad as I did,” Bunke said. “We would have raced things to the end, no doubt about it. If they would have called the race 20 laps earlier, they would have won. We battled them all day long, they were probably just as deserving of this race as we were. We’re going to celebrate together.”
Bunke won the I-500 in 2002 with Mike Gentz, in 2005 with Josh Davis and Corey Davidson, and last year with Christansen. He joins Davidson and John Wicht III, who attended the I-500 for the first time since 1998, as four-time winners. Davidson, who finished 18th on the No. 3 XLT Engineering/Woody’s Polaris, has won the race a record eight times.
The No. 5 LMB Speedshop Polaris driven by Kevin Bouman and Eric Bouman finished fourth, and the No. 9 Mayer Racing Polaris with Aaron Mayer, Anthony Mayer and Mike VanSloten finished fifth. Rounding out the top 10 were the No. 407 Yovich Racing Polaris with Brian Anderson, Eric Zellar, Tim Hall and Nate Woodward; the No 57 Felzke Farms Polaris with James Heiler and Gary McNeil; the No. 29 DL Racing Ski-Doo with Justin Tate, Mike VanDolder and Jeff Leuenberger; the No. 02 Team Blu Polaris with Joel Diamond, Cardell Potter and Duane Baur; and the No. 10 Piche Performance Polaris with Larry Young, Bryan Ball and Scott Rutledge.