FMF Makita Suzuki’s Josh Strang drew first blood at the opening round of the 2010 Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series at Westgate River Ranch in Lake Wales, Florida, winning a hard-fought battle over KTM privateer Chris Bach at the end of three hours of racing.
Nearly 1200 riders representing eight countries attended the series opener, which saw no less than five different riders hold the lead at one point or another in the highly competitive XC1 division.
At the drop of the green flag, it was defending series champ Paul Whibley taking the $250 Motorcycle-USA.com Holeshot Award on his Am-Pro Yamaha WR450F. Meanwhile, Strang was at the back of the pack after his bike failed to start on the first kick. At the end of the first lap, however, it was last year’s River Ranch winner, Charlie Mullins, holding a lead the Obermeyer/Am-Pro Yamaha rider eventually turned into a 45-second advantage. And at the midway point of the race, Mullins looked to be well on his way to his second-straight River Ranch win, however he eventually fell victim to one of the waterholes that littered the rough and sandy 14-mile course.
”There was one little pond that we were hydroplaning across, and I splashed up some water and my engine sucked it on and quit on me,” said Mullins. “I kicked and kicked and finally got it going, but after that I was pretty winded for the rest of the race.”
Mullins’ ordeal left Strang with a bit of breathing room out front, until late in the race when Bach moved up to challenge. During the first two hours of the race, Bach had methodically worked his way up into a top-three position, and when Mullins drowned out, it left only Strang in front of him.
”I got a surprisingly good start, which I wasn’t expecting to get, but unfortunately someone in front of me made a mistake in a mud hole and covered me with mud,” said Bach. “I had to stop and pull all the tear-offs off my goggles and by the time I got going I was all the way back in last.”
”After I got going, I just settled down and was moving up,” added Bach. “I was watching my pit board and it said I was in fifth, and then fourth, and then the next thing I knew I was in third behind Mullins and Strang. Then when Mullins had problems, I knew the only one left in front of me after that was Strang.”
Bach caught Strang during the final hour, and passed him in a palmetto section. However, Strang retook the lead when Bach stopped for gas. Bach took the lead again when Strang fell in the palmettos, but Strang reclaimed the lead, this time for good, when Bach took a wide line around a lapper about two miles before the finish.
”I’m stoked to get the win and get off to a good start for once,” said Strang, who has had bad luck at the Florida race in each of the last three years.
Perhaps the biggest story of the race was Bach, a privateer from Indiana who was making his first ride in the XC1 class after finishing as the top Amateur in last year’s series.
”I’ve been waiting a long time for this and I sure didn’t think it would come today,” said Bach. “Performance SuperCycle and Clockwork KTM are helping me, and I owe them a lot of thanks, but it is basically a privateer effort.”
Despite his troubles, Mullins was able to salvage a third.
”I’ll take third, I’m okay with that,” said Mullins. “It’s a long season and I just gotta keep at it. I was happy with the way I rode, I was able to put the bad luck out of my mind and keep pushing.”
Whibley held the fourth position on the final lap, but ran out of gas within a mile of the finish, handing fourth to GEICO/JG Racing/Monster Kawasaki’s Jimmy Jarrett.
Australian Husqvarna rider Glenn Kearney ran as high as fifth, but went over the bars on lap four and dropped back a couple of spots. Kearney worked back up and passed Jarrett for fifth, but crashed again on Lap 5.
”I finally passed Whibley when he ran out of fuel on the last lap and I thought I was going to end up with fifth, but then (Thad) DuVall caught me by surprise at the end and I ended up with sixth,” said Kearney.
Am-Pro Yamaha’s DuVall wound up with fifth, ahead of Kearney, while seventh went to veteran Barry Hawk, also on an Am-Pro Yamaha.
Factory FMF/KTM Off-Road’s Cory Buttrick, who moved into the XC1 class for 2010, finished eighth, with Mexico’s Enduro Champion Homero Diaz finishing ninth on a KTM, ahead of the unlucky Whibley.
In the XC2 division, Jason “UK7” Thomas took advantage of the new rule, which allows 250 2-strokes to compete with 250 4-strokes in the Lites class this year, riding a Monster Energy/FAR Racing/ Andrews Cycles-backed YZ250 to a first-place finish in the division.
Last year’s champ, Factory FMF/KTM Off-Road’s Kailub Russell, went down in the first turn, but recovered to finish third, despite tearing the skin off his hand on the choppy course.
“I just washed out the front in the first turn, but going into the woods I was already in third, so I was pumped about that,” said Russell. “The skin ripped on my hand and it was pretty bad after that.”
Jesse Robinson, riding a 2-stroke KTM, capitalized on Russell’s injury to claim second.
”I was behind Thomas at the start but I kind of pumped up, and then Kailub caught me,” said Robinson. “Later in the race, I just picked it up and moved into second.”
Meanwhile, Kawasaki rider Josh Weisenfels and KTM-mounted Jake Korn rounded out the top five.
John Day grabbed the $100 Motorcycle-USA.com Holeshot Award at the start of the XC2 race, while Open A Rider Jordan Ashburn claimed the Top Amateur Award.
The second round of the Can-Am Grand National Cross Country series, the Maxxis General GNCC, is this weekend, March 6-7, in Washington, Georgia.
1. Josh Strang (Suzuki)
2. Chris Bach (KTM)
3. Charlie Mullins (Yamaha)
4. Jimmy Jarrett (Kawasaki)
5. Thad DuVall (Yamaha)
6. Glenn Kearney (Husaberg)
7. Barry Hawk Jr. (Yamaha)
8. Cory Buttrick (KTM)
9. Homero Diaz (KTM)
10. Paul Whibley (Yamaha)
1. Jason Thomas (Yamaha)
2. Jesse Robinson (KTM)
3. Kailub Russell (KTM)
4. Josh Weisenfels (Kawasaki)
5. Jake Korn (KTM)
6. Dustin Gibson (KTM)
7. Steward Baylor (KTM)
8. Scott Watkins (Kawasaki)
9. Travis Hullfish (Kawasaki)
10. Corey MacDonald (Yamaha)