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Story credit to Olav Aaen.

Gilles Villeneuve was a unique pro snowmobile racer in the 70s. Racing for Allouette meant racing on a budget. The Villeneuve team arrived at the races in an old school bus (unlike the big race teams with trucks, mechanics, spare parts and other benefits big factories supplied).

Allouettes were powered by Sachs but were down on power to Yamaha, Polaris, Arctic, and Ski-Doo. Gilles won many significant races because the spirit in his 130-lb. 5-foot-4 frame was on fire. He mastered speed at the absolute limit, no matter the track conditions or what machine he rode. He always strove to be the fastest and could muscle his Allouette right at the traction limit. He was driven and took chances other racers didn’t. His early Allouettes were leafers but he graduated later to IFS.

That’s where John Curtis from Homer, NY enters the picture. Three years ago John built a nice RXL/Indy, but last year decided to build another SnoPro look-alike. He studied old race photos and noticed a similarity between the RXL and Allouette racers. He surmised with the right colors and graphics the connection could be even closer. He was right and built himself a most special “RXL.” I’d love to be near snowmobilers in a restaurant as John passes by the windows, “Did you see that? An Allouette Snopro Racer!

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John recently earned a First Place with his RXL hood disguised as an Allouette. Good on ya, John.

A natural engineer

Gilles mounts his 650 single-track Alloutte, ready to win the 1974 Eagle River title.
Gilles mounts his 650 single-track Alloutte, ready to win the 1974 Eagle River title.
Photo credit CJ Ramstad photo archives.

The Villeneuve brothers quickly impressed everyone with their constant “on the limit” driving styles and their “never quit” spirit. Besides being an exceptionally talented driver, Gilles also was a skilled “natural” engineer. Although he never had any basic technical college training, he had a good eye and natural instinct for what would work mechanically, and was always looking for a technical advantage or a new design to give him an edge.

Perhaps the biggest shocker was when he rolled out the Allouette twin tracker. Gilles had started racing Formula cars in Canada, and his twin tracker was basically a Formula car with skis and tracks. Instead of front wheels, there were skis, but they were mounted on Formula car style A-frame suspensions that were only seen 15 years later on Arctic Cats. Now, 30 years later, they are standard equipment on modern snowmobiles.

Two tracks replaced the wheels in back, and Gilles sat in a cockpit like a racecar, with the engine behind him, operation coming via a 5-speed gearbox of his own design. The sled created an absolute sensation, but had plenty of development problems in the beginning, especially with the gearbox. When the gearbox was changed to a belt drive, the pace quickened and results came. 

Gilles starts the IFS revolution on his Skiroule at the 1976 Killkenny Cup.
Gilles starts the IFS revolution on his Skiroule at the 1976 Killkenny Cup.

With its low seating position, there was not enough weight-transfer at the start, and Gilles often found himself last off the line. The twin-track sled did, however, have an advantage in the corners, and Gilles started picking off the other drivers one by one, by aggressively driving under them in the turns.

This was intimidating to the drivers that were being passed, and soon there were a lot of complaints from drivers who felt the little race car with skis and tracks was way too dangerous the way Gilles moved them out of the way. That’s not a snowmobile, went the argument and it’s not what the rules were meant to allow.