River Ranch, FL (March 8, 2011) - Charlie Mullins topped a deep field of off-road racers to win the opening round of the Can-Am Grand National Cross Series, the Moose Racing Westgate River Ranch GNCC, at the Westgate River Ranch Resort near Lake Wales, Florida.
Mullins played his cards just right on the rough and sandy course, staying within striking distance of the leaders for most of the three-hour race, but saving just enough energy for a final push. In the end, a last lap sprint to the finish was more than enough to give the factory KTM rider the "W".
KTM factory WORCS rider Mike Brown, who was making a rare GNCC appearance, led more laps than anyone in the race, taking the lead on the second lap from defending series champ Josh Strang and holding it until Mullins took the top spot with a last lap pass through a mud hole. Ultimately, Brown settled for second ahead of Chris Bach, who turned some heads by putting his Beta 450 RR on the podium in his first national appearance for American Beta.
"I was pretty much where I wanted to be all day," said Mullins. "The last two laps I was behind Brown and I just put on a charge and was able to get the win. On the last lap we came up on a mud hole that was getting pretty deep. He went around it and I went through it and I came out in front. After that, I just stayed on the gas."
Brown looked strong during the early going, and at one point held a 25-second lead over Bach.
"On the last lap I still had a pretty good lead, but I just slacked off too much and Charlie made up a big gap on me," said Brown. "It would have been nice to win, but second feels pretty good right now."
Bach overcame a mishap in the first turn to land on the podium. The lanky Indiana rider came from dead last, all the way to second, but spent too much energy in the process and gave way to Mullins on the next to last lap.
"I'm not sure who it was, but someone bumped me in the first turn and I tipped over," said Bach. "I was so mad that I just rode like an idiot to catch up as fast as I could. All I wanted to do was get to the front in a hurry. Once I got up into second they said I was reeling Brownie in, but I didn't really feel safe riding as fast as I would need to ride to catch him. Finally, the track went away and got really rough and my hands just gave away on me and Mullins got me."
Strang finished the day in fourth after leading part of the opening lap, but admitted that he felt tired during the early stages of the race.
"I led for a while and then I dropped off the pace," said Strang. "I started feeling better at the halfway point of the race and I began moving forward and Mullins was behind me, I think we were running third and fourth, but I ended up going down pretty hard. I had to stop and straighten out my bike and that was it."
Nate Kanney recovered from a bad start to finish fifth. The WMR Off-Road/Clockwork/Planet Fitness/KTM rider went down hard in the palmetto trees and took a few minutes to regroup.
"I was a little shaken up, but I kept going and slowly kept picking up my pace as the race went on," said Kanney. "Later on a stick knocked my fuel line off and I had to deal with that. But I'm actually pretty satisfied about fifth, considering it was such a brutal race and what all I had to deal with."
FMF/KTM rider Cory Buttrick had a bad day, which included a fall in the first turn, but still managed to score sixth place points. Meanwhile, Kawasaki rider Garret Edminsten was a solid seventh.
Paul Whibley won the $250 Motosport.com Holeshot Award to start the race, however, the Am Pro/FMF/Yamaha rider hit a tree on the first lap and broke the radiator off his YZ450F. Whibs returned to the pits to repair the damage and then turned in a gutsy performance, which garnered him eighth.
Florida rider Fernando Macia put his Yamaha into ninth, while Dennis Stapleton rounded out the top 10 on a Kentucky Fried Chicken-backed Yamaha.
In the XC2 class, 16-year-old Steward Baylor Jr. capitalized on a good start to claim his first win in the division. Baylor led every lap but one on his KTM and finished the race with nearly a minute to spare over FAR Husqvarna's Jason Thomas.
"The only mistake I made all day was on the last lap, it kicked me off sideways in the roots," said Baylor. "But I just went all out on the final lap and got the win."
Thomas also led part of the race, and admitted he ran out of steam in the end.
"I was faster than him in one section and he was faster in another and I was hoping it would come down to the end, but he just had a bit too much on me," said Thomas. KTM rider Jesse Robinson was a solid third, two minutes ahead of ISDE and National Enduro rider Andrew DeLong, who finished fourth on a KTM.
DeLong also won the $100 Motosport.com Holeshot Award after beating Baylor to the line at the start of the race.
FAR Husqvarna's Morgan Moss beat out KTM rider Brad Bakken, who is hot off a runner-up finish at the National Enduro opener the week before.
KTM riders Shane Obanion and Shane Hufford Jr. finished seventh and eighth, while JNCC racer Kobayashi Masahiro was ninth on a Honda and Jordan Ashburn was 10th on an Am Pro/FMF Yamaha.
1. Charlie Mullins (KTM)
2. Michael Brown (KTM)
3. Chris Bach (Bet)
4. Josh Strang (Suz)
5. Nathan Kanney (KTM)
6. Cory Buttrick (KTM)
7. Garret Edminsten (Kaw)
8. Paul Whibley (Yam)
9. Fernando Macia (Yam)
10. Dennis Stapleton (Yam)
1. Steward Baylor Jr. (KTM)
2. Jason Thomas (Hsq)
3. Jesse Robinson (KTM)
4. Andrew DeLong (KTM)
5. Morgan Moss (Hsq)
6. Brad Bakken (KTM)
7. Shane Obanion (KTM)
8. Shane Hufford Jr. (KTM)
9. Kobayashi Masahiro (Hon)
10. Jordan Ashburn (Yam)