Day one of this weekend’s first-ever Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series double-header provided nothing short of epic racing as over five hundred bike racers showed up at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. for the season finale Parts Unlimited Loretta Lynn’s GNCC. What started out looking like a relatively easy runaway win for points leader Charlie Mullins, turned into an electrifying nail-biter in the end.
Mullins came into Friday’s round leading the point standings over a field of the best off-road racers in the world, including Australia sensation and defending champion Josh Strang and 2009 GNCC Champion Paul Whibley of New Zealand. Not one to play it safe, however, Mullins grabbed the lead on the opening lap and started to pull away from the competition. But the race – and the title chase – took an unexpected turn when Mullins’ bike sputtered to a stop on lap five after suffering an engine failure. AmPro Yamaha’s Paul Whibley assumed the lead at that point with Mullins’ FMF/KTM teammate Cory Buttrick in second, as Mullins worked frantically to restart his bike.
In the meantime, FMF Makita Suzuki’s Josh Strang had managed to work his way into the battle for the lead after finding himself at the rear of the pack when he collided with Whibley in the first turn. Both Whibley and Strang turned in epic rides to move through traffic during the first few laps, with Whibley having the benefit of getting away before Strang. Whibs was hitting one of the deep and fast-running creek crossings wide open in order to make up time and the strategy paid off as the Kiwi found himself in the right place at the right time when Mullins dropped out.
At the end of three hours of intense racing, Whibley took the checkered flag with only an 11 second gap over Buttrick, who claimed his best finish of the year with the runner-up position. Meanwhile, third went to Strang, who kept his title hopes alive with the finish.
“I can’t control what anybody else does so I just have to go out there and win races,” said Whibley. “Late in the race, I saw Mullins’ bike laying over beside the track so I knew I had the lead at that point. It was tough to make up time in the woods so I was hitting the creeks as hard as I could to try and get it done.”
After swapping out his engine for a fresh one, Mullins was able to make the final lap and was credited with 14th position, which leaves the North Carolina rider with an even smaller advantage over Whibley in the standings heading into Sunday’s finale. If Mullins is able to secure the championship after Sunday’s race, he will be the first American to hold a GNCC XC1 title since Rodney Smith in 2004.
Kailub Russell finished a strong fourth after the FMF KTM rider battled closely with Strang and Buttrick throughout most of the three-hour race. Russell was set to take another podium finish until the pro class rookie crashed on the final lap of the race. Meanwhile, FMF KTM’s Russell Bobbitt came out on top of a fierce battle with WMR Racing/Clockwork/Planet Fitness KTM rider Nate Kanney to finish fifth.
JG Off-road/GEICO Powersports Honda’s Scotty Watkins was seventh, beating out Beta rider Jesse Robinson and KTM rider Kenny Gilbert.
Australian off-road star Toby Price rounded out the top 10 on a KTM.
Jedediah Haines claimed the $250 Motosport.com Holeshot Award at the start of the XC1 race.
In the XC2 class, it was Obermeyer Yamaha/Raines Riding University/OffroadViking.com’s Jordan Ashburn who won the race, but it was FMF/KTM’s Steward Baylor Jr. who won the war, wrapping up the 2011 XC2 title with a second place finish.
Ashburn took control of the race early, passing teammate Romain Dumonteir on the opening lap after Dumontier grabbed a spectacular holeshot to win the $100Motosport.com Holeshot Award to start the race. Ashburn eventually cruised home with a comfortable win, taking the checkers with almost five minutes to spare. Ashburn was in contention for the overall lead during the early stages of the race, and his win is his fourth of the year.
In the meantime, Baylor’s story was much more intense. When South Carolina rider’s race bike started cutting out just before the start of the XC2 race, he jumped on another KTM that he had never ridden before. The bars were different, the suspension was set up for someone else, and the feel of the bike was completely foreign, and yet, amazingly, Baylor was able to ride it to a second place finish to wrap up the series title after an intense couple rounds of battle with Ashburn.
Andrew DeLong rounded out the podium, finishing the race with no front or rear fenders after one particularly hard get-off.
DeLong’s FAR Husqvarna teammate Jason Thomas finished a solid fourth, beating out Dumontier in the process. Dumonteir was the top-finishing Junior in this year’s ISDE in Finland, and he lead his French teammates to the Junior Trophy Team title.
Sixth went to Ted Mullins (Yam), with KTM rider Dustin Gibson taking seventh ahead of Yamaha rider AJ Stewart.
Supercrosser Jase Lewis finished ninth, while fellow KTM rider Justin Bonita was 10th.
Adam Bonneur was the top finishing “non pro” rider, with an impressive 13th overall finish on a Kawasaki. Bonneur also topped the competitive Open A class.
In the A.M. race, off-road great Mark Hyde claimed an impressive overall win, the Ohio rider also taking the Masters A (50+) win on a KTM. Master A (50+) riders finished second and third overall, as well, with Mark Patterson taking the runner-up spot on a Suzuki, while four-time National Enduro Champ Terry Cunningham rounded out the podium on a KTM.
Darin Downs topped the Sportsman A class on a Yamaha, taking the win over second place finisher Shawn Clark on a Yamaha, and third place finisher Wesley Keller on a KTM.
In the Youth race, Austin Lee (KTM) claimed his seventh overall victory of the year, and also took the win in the Super Mini (12-13) class. Anthony Stone (KTM) was second overall and first in the Super Mini (14-15) division, while Kevin Sutphin was third overall and second in the Super Mini (12-13) class.
The Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series continues throughout the weekend for the first-ever GNCC Racing double-header. ATVs will race throughout the day tomorrow, November 5 and bikes will hit the trails of Loretta Lynn’s Ranch once again for the finale on Sunday, November 6. For more information, please visit www.gnccracing.com.
1. Paul Whibley (Yam)
2. Cory Buttrick (KTM)
3. Josh Strang (Suz)
4. Kailub Russell (KTM)
5. Russell Bobbitt (KTM)
6. Nate Kanney (KTM)
7. Scotty Watkins (Hon)
8. Jesse Robinson (Bet)
9. Kenny Gilbert (KTM)
10. Toby Price (KTM)
1. Charlie Mullins (282/5 wins)
2. Paul Whibley (264/4 wins)
3. Josh Strang (258/2 wins)
4. Kailub Russell (208/1 win)
5. Nate Kanney (186)
6. Cory Buttrick (158)
7. Thad DuVall (129)
8. Jimmy Jarrett (120)
9. Mike Lafferty (105)
10. Jedediah Haines (97)
1. Jordan Ashburn (Yam)
2. Steward Baylor Jr. (KTM)
3. Andrew DeLong (Hsq)
4. Jason Thomas (Hsq)
5. Roman Dumontier (Yam)
6. Ted Mullins (Yam)
7. Dustin Gibson (KTM)
8. AJ Stewart (Yam)
9. Jase Lewis (KTM)
10. Justin Bonita (KTM)
1. Steward Baylor Jr. (298/6 wins)
2. Jordan Ashburn (251/4 wins)
3. Jason Thomas (238/1 win)
4. Andrew DeLong (235)
5. Jesse Robinson (146/1 win)
6. AJ Stewart (132)
7. Morgan Moss (131)
8. Scotty Watkins (125)
9. Zachery Smith (120)
10. Steven Squire (113)
Motosport.com $250 XC1 holeshot – Jedediah Haines
Motosport.com $100 XC2 holeshot – Roman Dumontier