FMF/Makita Suzuki's Josh Strang has proven twice during the 2009 Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series season that he can recover from the worst of circumstances to come back on top. Whether it be running out of gas in the first round or mentally zoning out in the muddy Titan GNCC, Strang has come back to dominate just weeks later.
Beside the elements and simple bad luck, Strang has battled two very talented riders, New Zealander Paul Whibley and his Suzuki teammate Charlie Mullins. Just six points separate the three riders heading into this weekend's Wiseco John Penton GNCC in Ohio.
The top three riders battling for the XC1 Championship are running so close that you could throw a blanket over all of them, with Suzuki's Josh Strang only four points ahead of teammate Carlie Mullins and six ahead of Kawasaki's Paul Whibley.
Strang has been able to get in the middle of his competitors and their usual style of racing. Whibley got the nickname "The Badger" because, usually, if he catches a rider in the late laps, he would sink his teeth in and make the pass before the finish. Strang is one of the first riders to ever be caught by Whibley in a duel on the final lap and come out on top-which he did for the first time for a win at Steele Creek.
Strang's teammate "Check Out Charlie" Mullins hasn't had a win since the first round but has consistently stayed on the podium each race except round two in Georgia. Mullins is second in the points standings, just four points behind Strang and a mere two points ahead of Whibley. While Mullins has checked out early with leads in his usual style, Strang has managed to run him down a few times to grab wins.
"The Big Three" have distanced themselves so far from the rest of the pack, it could be down to the last race to see who will really come out on top. The next in line to knock one of the three off their pedestal is Jimmy Jarrett, Whibley's GECIO/Monster Kawasaki teammate. This year his finishes have run the gamut of 16th at round three to three second place finishes. Jarrett is forty points behind Whibley going into John Penton race. Jarrett, along with Shock Doctor KTM's Nate Kanney and Yamaha's Barry Hawk make up the second group of riders battling for top 10 positions. Hawk got on the podium for the first time this year at the Mountain Ridge GNCC after battling with bike set up for the first part of the series. Kanney's teammate Kurt Casselli and Husqvarna's Glenn Kearney have battled their own woes on their way to the top 10. And Hawk's Am-Pro Yamaha teammate Thad DuVall has been fast at nearly every race this year, but an unprecedented run of four-straight races with mechanical troubles has kept him out of victory lane. This weekend could mark the breakthrough the rookie needs.
Kailub Russell has a comfortable margin over his closest competitor Cory Buttrick.
On the XC2 side, Shock Doctor KTM's Kailub Russell is continuing his dedicated run to the championship. Russell's five wins puts him 42 points above Cory Buttrick, his fiercest competitor. Monster Energy/ Andrews Yamaha rider Jason Thomas, has steadily improved through the season to come in third in the points standings, battling with Geico/JG Racing Monster Kawasaki's Scott Watkins to keep his position.
The Wiseco John Penton is a legendary race, named for one of the pioneers of off-road motorcycle racing in America. John Penton is the man who originally imported the KTM motorcycle from Austria into the United States. The track features a mix of tight trails and wide-open sections.
To get to the track from Athens, take Rt. 33 W. 1 mile to 13N (Chauncey Exit) Go 3 miles into Chauncey. Turn right-staying on Route 13 North. Continue for 10 miles to Jacksonville. Go right on Sixth St. for 2 miles, then turn left.