(Left to Right) Whibley, Strang and Mullins on the victory podium for the hotly contested GNCC XC1 Pro title .
The third winner of the season emerged at the third round of the 2009 Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series, the FMF Steele Creek GNCC, proving the chase for this year's GNCC Championship will be fierce.
After a three-hour battle of wheel-to-wheel racing, FMF Makita Suzuki's Josh Strang sailed into the finish line first to grab his win of the 2009 season. His teammate Charlie Mullins and GEICO/JG Racing Monster Kawasaki's Paul Whibley took second and third at Steele Creek on Sunday.
"After Whibley and Mullins and Kearney passed me by I realized I needed to click it up a gear," Strang said of the early battle. "It was a little easy, but not too easy."
Charlie Mullins took second to mark and grabed the MotorcycleUSA.com Holeshot.
Strang's win was indeed not easy. Mullins nabbed the $250 MotorcycleUsa.com Holeshot Award off the start and led early. The race was tight until the final lap of the race, as Strang battled it out with Mullins, Whibley, Husqvarna's Glenn Kearney, and Am-Pro Yamaha's Barry Hawk and Thad DuVall on a track that ran through the steep hills, bridges and mud of North Carolina.
The top six traded in and out of the top three spots until Hawk and Kearney were knocked out of the running in the fifth lap. Kearney's bike stalled through the infamous mud hole under Steele Creek concrete bridge and Hawk suffered his own problems in the mud. From there, Strang was able to pick up the pace and finished nearly a minute ahead of teammate Mullins.
"I'm pretty happy with it," Mullins said. "I wish I'd won it but I'll take second today. I'll definitely be ready for the next race."
Whibley, who came in first at the Maxxis General GNCC two weeks ago, had trouble with his suspension, making it hard to hold on for three hours.
"I was a little uncomfortable out there," Whibley said. "Third is still good. I'm happy to be up on the podium. It's still a good day."
In his first race back after breaking his wrist at the GNCC opener in Florida three weeks ago, XC1 Class rookie Thad Duvall came in fourth, followed by Shock Doctor KTM riders Nathan Kanney and Kurt Caselli. Yamaha's Jason Raines nabbed seventh and Hawk recovered from the mud hole to come in eighth. Kawasaki privateer Jesse Robinson and 2000 GNCC Champion Shane Watts rounded out the top 10.
(Left to Right) Russell, Buttrick and Matusek on the XC2 podium.
In the XC2 Lites class, Shock Doctor KTM's Kailub Russell came into the race carrying a two-race win streak, but a first-turn crash allowed his teammate Cory Buttrick to get out front, along with Kawasaki privateer Andrew Matusek, who grabbed the $100 Cometic XC2 Holeshot Award. Russell recovered and was able to get into the lead on the second lap, but after he pitted, Buttrick was able to get back past him. The KTM teammates pressured each other for the rest of the race, with Buttrick coming out ahead to take his first win of the season. Russell took second with Matusek third.
"I saw Russell come up behind me fast and I thought it was going to be a hard three hours," Buttrick said. "I'm tired, but it's worth it. It feels good to get a win."
The race drew 1591 different riders, an increase over last year's Steele Creek event.
Kawasaki's Jordan Ashburn collected Top Amateur honors by taking 14th overall and winning the Open A class. In the two hour bike morning race, Women's Class Winner Amanda Mastin collected the $100 Coppersmith Suspension Amateur Holeshot Award.
The 2009 Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series continues with the Pirelli Big Buck GNCC in Union, South Carolina, on April 4th and 5th. For more information, visit www.gnccracing.com
FMF Stelle Creek GNCC
March 22, 2009
1. Josh Strang (SUZ)
2. Charles Mullins (SUZ)
3. Paul Whibley (KAW)
4. Thad DuVall (YAM)
5. Nathan Kanney (KTM)
6. Kurt Caselli (KTM)
7. Jason Raines ( YAM)
8. Barry Hawk (YAM)
9. Jesse Robinson (KAW)
10. Shane Watts (KTM)
XC2 Pro Lites
1. Cory Buttrick (KTM)
2. Kailub Russell (KTM)
3. Andrew Matusek ( KAW)
4. Jake Korn (KTM)
5. Scott Watkins (KAW)
6. Josh Weisenfels (YAM)
7. Brian Lawson ( YAM)
8. Eric Bailey (KTM)
9. Brett Zofchak (KAW)
10. Mat Herrington (KAW)
Can-Am Grand National Cross Country XC1 Point Standings (After 3 of 13 rounds)
1. Paul Whibley (76/1 win); 2. Charlie Mullins (73/1 win); 3. Josh Strang (57/1 win); 4. Nathan Kanney (53); 5. Jimmy Jarrett (45); 6. Kurt Caselli (44); 7. Barry Hawk (33); 8. TIE: Jesse Robinson/Homero Diaz (24); 10. Ryan Gainey (23).