By: GNCC Racing
SPARTA, Ga. (March 26, 2017) – FMF/KTM Factory Racing’s Kailub Russell found himself back on top Sunday, March 26 at the second annual Maxxis Cannonball GNCC in Sparta, Ga. The forecasted rain held off for round three of the AMSOIL Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) series presented by Maxxis, an AMA National Championship, creating a rough and tiresome racetrack by the time the world’s fastest off-road racers lined up.
After taking the win just two weeks ago, Russell kept the momentum rolling by claiming the $250 All Balls Racing Holeshot Award once the race was underway. Coastal Racing/Husqvarna’s Ryan Sipes didn’t let his injury from the last race affect him, as he ran right behind Russell off the start.
Rockstar Energy/Factory Husqvarna Racing’s Thad Duvall was able to make the pass on Sipes before the first eight miles of the six-lap race were complete. Russell, Duvall and Sipes held a huge gap on the rest of the pack, including Beta USA’s Jordan Ashburn in fourth. The top three may have had a large gap on the rest of the field, but Russell, Duvall and Sipes were wheel to wheel as they emerged out of the woods at the nine-mile marker.
SRT/KTM’s Steward Baylor, who held second place in the points championship, was nowhere to be seen on the first lap. After struggling to get his bike fired up on the start, his competitors had a 30-second lead over him.
Sipes made quick work in the main field section to pass Duvall and take back second overall. Duvall continued to hang with Sipes, and made the pass again just before they checked through timing and scoring for the first time.
As the second lap wore on, Ashburn continued pushing himself in an attempt to catch the podium contenders, and he shaved off 10 seconds. Meanwhile, Baylor worked his way into the top five.
Like the previous round, different pit strategies came into play for Russell and Duvall. As the second lap was coming to a close, Russell headed in for a splash of gas, allowing Duvall to inch closer.
Halfway through the race, Sipes would find himself dealing with wrist pain from his accident in Florida. He decided to end his race early in hopes of letting his hand have a couple more weeks to heal before the Steele Creek GNCC. Baylor used Sipes’ misfortune to his benefit, taking over the third-place position on the third lap. Ashburn continued to keep Baylor honest throughout the remainder of the lap.
With only one lap remaining, Duvall took the lead for a few miles until making a costly mistake. “I threw away the win,” said Duvall. “I had a comfortable lead on Russell coming into the white flag. I crashed so hard, I’m not even sure what happened.”
Russell took command of the lead again, but Duvall recovered to maintain second. Without a front fender or number plate, Duvall faced a whole new obstacle on the last lap. Russell continued to push through the demanding course to take the win, with Duvall recovering to finish second overall.
“I had bad stomach cramps in South Carolina, and I got them again today,” said Russell. “I don’t know if it’s what I’m taking in my drink bottles during the race or what. I felt okay other than my stomach cramping. I had a crash and Duvall got away, so I felt like I had just blown it right there. I caught up to Duvall and saw he was picking himself up, too. I suffered the entire last lap and I’m not really happy with today. We need to go back to the drawing board and make some changes.”
Even though he didn’t have sight of the leaders, Baylor continued to ride his own race and challenge himself, finishing third after his impressive come-from-behind ride.
Ashburn finished just off the podium in fourth, which would score him his best finish of the year. JCR Honda’s Trevor Bollinger rebounded from his last race with fifth overall. After suffering from some lingering injuries, Rockstar Energy/Factory Husqvarna Racing’s Josh Strang rode a consistent race for seventh overall.
In the XC2 250 Pro Lites division, Appalachian Offroad Motorcycles’ Sam Evans grabbed the $100 Hot Cams XC2 Holeshot Award. N-Fab/AmPro’s Josh Toth worked his way through the pack to earn his third straight win of the season. The Cannonball GNCC treated both RPM/KTM’s Mike Witkowski and New Jersey’s Jesse Groemm well as they finished second and third respectively.
The 10 a.m. race saw a familiar group of ladies on the overall podium. Rocky Mountain ATV*MC/KR4/Husqvarna Team’s Tayla Jones saw her way to her third win of the season. Defending champion and Fly Racing/Maxxis/Seat Concepts/KTM-backed Becca Sheets earned second, and Trail Jester’s MacKenzie Tricker was third overall.
The 2017 AMSOIL GNCC Series resumes April 8-9 with the FMF Steele Creek GNCC in Morganton, N.C. A highlight show featuring the Cannonball event will air on NBC Sports Network on Sunday, May 28 at 5:30 p.m.