River Ranch, Florida (March 13, 2012) - Paul Whibley drew first blood in GNCC competition by winning the opening round of the series in River Ranch, Florida, edging defending series champ Charlie Mullins by a bike-length on a rough and whooped out sandy course.
Whibley and Mullins traded the lead several times throughout the course of the three-hour race, as did WMR Racing's Rory Mead, however, on the final lap Mead dropped off the pace and the battle for the win came down to Whibley and Mullins. Heading into the final lap, Whibley held as much as a five-second lead over Mullins, but Mullins picked up the pace and pulled to within striking distance of the leader. However, Whibley held his ground and the Am Pro/FMF/Yamaha rider went on to take the first win of the season.
"This is a good way to start the year," said Whibley. "Mullins was riding well today, and it was a good race out there. The track was round and it got a little hot, but we were able to keep Mullins behind us when it counted."
Mullins ended up second on his FMF/KTM 450 SX-F, but seemed satisfied to be leaving Florida in fairly good shape heading into next weekend's round in Georgia.
"I'm okay with a second today," said Mullins. "It's a long season and we came away in good shape for next week. This was a tough race today. Whibley set a good pace and he was hard to get around. The heat also played a huge factor and it was very challenging near the end of the race."
Mead rounded out the podium, marking his first-ever podium in GNCC competition, and it also made for two New Zealander's on the podium (himself and Whibley).
Fourth went to Shenandoah Racing/Offroad Champions Honda's Thad DuVall, who was making his first GNCC start for Honda, while American Beta's Chris Bach rounded out the top five.
AM Pro Yamaha's Jordan Ashburn finished sixth on a 250 two-stoke, while FMF/KTM's Cory Buttrick was seventh after running top-five early in the race.
Japanese cross-country champ Takeshi Koikeda finished a respectable eighth on a KTM, beating out KTM rider Jesse Groemm and sand specialist Garrett Edmisten, who ran second early on.
In the XC-2 class, RidePG.com/Genuine Dirt Racer/WP Racing USA's Steward Baylor took a big win, beating out Husaberg rider Jesse Robinson and FAR Husqvarna's Glenn Kearney. Baylor turned some of the fastest times of the day, including among the top pros, and even finish third overall in adjusted time, behind Whibley and Mulllins.