The first two rounds of the 2008 Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series produced two different types of terrain and two different winners. Red Bull KTM's David Knight mastered Florida sand and FMF Suzuki's Charlie Mullins handled Georgia clay, which sets up a showdown in the mountains this weekend at North Carolina's FMF Steele Creek GNCC.
"I'm pumped up and ready to go," said Mullins during a training session this week. "We've been down riding and staying in North Carolina for the last three weeks. I think a lot of people were tired from Florida when we went to race in Georgia. Now everyone has a three-week break and everyone is fresh, so it should be a great race."
A deep pack of talent may result in a third different winner this year. Am-Pro Yamaha veteran Barry Hawk, the 2003 GNCC Champion, won the Steele Creek race last year in a dramatic last-lap duel and expects the same this year. Knight's teammate Nathan Kanney has enjoyed a strong return to the series after a year racing in Europe's World Enduro Championship. New York's Kanney finished a close second to Mullins in Georgia and led several laps in Florida, which makes him the only rider to lead laps in both races. Mullins' FMF Suzuki teammates also look strong after great results in the first two races, with Ohio's Jimmy Jarrett taking second and fifth, and New Zealand's Paul Whibley taking fifth and fourth.
In addition, North Carolina's own Jesse Robinson will look for his first career podium after scoring a pair of top 10s in the first two rounds of the season. Robinson, aboard his Monster/Maxxis/MasterTech/HMF Kawasaki, knows the North Carolina trails better than anyone.
The Steele Creek GNCC will mark a return to more traditional GNCC terrain. The course runs up and down steep hills, with rocks, tree roots and some of the best dirt on the tour covering the ground. Water hazards exist as well, and fans can stand on top of the famous Steele Creek bridge and watch the riders dive into a deep water crossing below.
In the bike XC2 class, Am-Pro Yamaha's Thad DuVall looks for his third-straight win. Monster Energy/Andrews Yamaha riders Dustin Gibson and Josh Weisenfels are close behind in points, though, along with Monster Energy/Kawasaki rookie Andrew Matusek. Red Bull KTM's defending class champion, Justin Williamson, has struggled through the first two rounds and needs to bounce back.
Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series Standings (after 2 rounds):
1. David Knight (51/1 win)
2. Charlie Mullins (41/1 win)
2. Jim Jarrett (41)
4. Nathan Kanney (40)
5. Paul Whibley (34)
1. Thad DuVall (60/2 wins)
2. Andrew Matusek (43)
3. Dustin Gibson (42)
4. Josh Weisenfels (41) 5. John Barber (31)