So far, the '07 GNCC series has lived up to its wild expectations. Parts Unlimited/Moose Honda rider Paul Whibley finally put in his breakthrough ride, which resulted in a victory at the Maxxis General GNCC, his first career Can-Am Grand National Cross Country win. Privateer Kawasaki rider Garrett Edmisten finished second at the General to take over the series points lead, and Red Bull KTM's Robbie Jenks finished third.
The surprises at the front of the pack were matched with troubles for pre-season GNCC title favorites. World Enduro Champion David Knight struggled due to pain in his hand, which he broke a few weeks ago. Multi-time GNCC Champion Barry Hawk ran out of gas and could only muster 28th trying to come back. The opening round winner, KTMHutt/Fun Mart Cycles' Shane Watts, charged to the front early but lost his rear brakes, and could only muster ninth overall after stopping for repairs and then losing his brakes again. And Am-Pro Yamaha's Charlie Mullins said he had a horrible day, crashing early and smashing his pinky finger, and then fighting some set-up issues while holding on for fifth overall.
Whibley, the New Zealander who finished fifth in the series last year, didn't even know he was in the lead for most of the race. "I got a pretty bad start, which is kind of usual for me," said Whibley, who rides for five-time GNCC Champion Scott Summers. "I caught up with a few guys real quick, and I got behind them and tried to ride relaxed. I usually get arm pump at the beginning of the race, but I stayed relaxed and my arms were okay. So I kept pushing until I got to the front. I didn't even realize until the last few laps that I was out front, and then everyone was cheering for me."
Whibley pulled a big gap on his way to victory, a surprise for a rider who had yet to take a GNCC podium finish.
Edmisten is an even bigger surprise. The KX450F- mounted rider has help from a local company, Walpole Trucking, and suddenly finds himself with the lead in America's largest off-road racing series.
"I knew in Florida I would get a podium, because that's my home town and I have been training hard," said Edmisten. "But I thought I could get a top five here. I was top five on the first lap, so I knew it would be a good day. Me and Jenks rode together for the first few laps, and then he got away. Then Whibley came by me on the gas, and I couldn't stay with him. Then toward the end there I came up on (Glenn) Kearney, I got around him and thought I would get third. Then I came up on Jenks, and here I am in second."
Jenks was happy to avenge a rough ride at the series opener in Florida. "I had a terrible ride last week," said Jenks. "I had to redeem myself here, or I think Antti was going to put me out back of the KTM rig. I got a decent start and I was content because I could see the leaders. I just tried to loosen up. Garrett and I were together pretty much all day, and next thing you know, we were in the top three. We pushed each other to the front."
The new XC2 Pro Lites class nearly made the overall podium. Red Bull KTM's Kurt Caselli won the class again and finished fourth overall on his 250 XC-F. "I got the holeshot again, and then I got in the woods and I had no idea what was going on," Caselli said, "I don't ride in the trees!"
Caselli swept the first two rounds of XC2 Lites racing, but he's heading back to California to focus on racing out west. This opens the door to the full-time GNCC riders, like 17-year-old Am Pro Yamaha rider Thad DuVall, who chased Caselli all day on way to a second-place finish. Caselli grabbed the Thumpertalk.com XC2 holeshot award, but DuVall challenged him hard. "We were really battling hard out there, which was fun," said DuVall. "I got into the lead a few times, but I got pretty tired down at the end. We're going to go home and work on that. I'm just happy to be up here."
FMF Suzuki's five-time GNCC Champion Rodney Smith was third in the XC2 class. "I'm just a part-time rider now, and I thank Suzuki for letting me come out and do this and help develop the RM-Z250," said Smith. "I get to ride with the younger riders, and it's pretty neat."
Smith's teammate Jimmy Jarrett took the Racer X Illustrated Holeshot Award in the XC1 class, and he held on for seventh place. Another FMF Suzuki rider, Glenn Kearney, took the early lead and opened up a big gap early. After leading for a few laps, though, Whibley broke through and caught the Australian, and then Kearney faded back a few spots late, still dealing with the illness that ran him down at the season opener in Florida a few days earlier.
While Whibley took the lead and never looked back, Edmisten and Jenks battled together to get Kearney and then settle the podium order between them. "Last year was a bit of a learning experience for me," said Edmisten. "I went and had some knee surgery, and I trained hard and got ready. The last few laps I was feeling pretty fatigued, but when I came up on Jenks, I pushed, and right as I made the pass I felt my leg cramp up. I said 'This is it; I better go.' So I did and held on to the finish. It probably won't sink in for a few days, but it feels good. I want to make it last as long as I can."
Noticeably missing from the top ten was KTM's David Knight. The World Enduro Champion, who was touted to make a splash in this year's GNCC series, had a very disappointing day, finishing 20th in the XC1 class. Knight started off well, but is still struggling with the hand injury he carried into round one of the championship.
"After finishing the first round of the championship I thought my hand was going to be ok here at round two," Knight said. "The track here wasn't as whooped out or as rough as in Florida but I just couldn't hold on over the square edged bumps.
"I knew that I wasn't going to be able to run with the fastest riders so I just tried to keep riding to try and get some points. I had to keep stopping out on the track because of my hand.
"I'm going to be heading home for eight days now before the next race so I will be able to see my physio and hopefully get things fixed before round three," the Isle of Man resident concluded.
The Can-Am GNCC Series continues in two weeks with the FMF Steele Creek GNCC in Morganton, North Carolina. For more information, check out www.gnccracing.com.
Maxxis General GNCC
1. Paul Whibley (Parts Unlimited/Moose Hon CRF450X) XC1 Pro
2. Garrett Edmisten (Kaw KX450F) XC1 Pro
3. Robbie Jenks (Red Bull KTM 250XC) XC1 Pro
4. Kurt Caselli (Red Bull KTM 250XC-F) XC2 Pro Lites
5. Charles Mullins (Am-Pro Yam YZ250) XC1 Pro
6. Glenn Kearney (FMF Suz RM250) XC1 Pro
7. Jimmy Jarrett (FMF Suz RM250) XC1 Pro
8. Thad DuVall (Am-Pro Yam WR250F) XC2 Pro Lites
9. Shane Watts (KTMHutt.com/Fun Mart Cycles KTM 250XC) XC1 Pro
10. Rodney Smith (FMF Suz RM-Z250) XC2 Pro Lites
11. Josh Weisenfels (Yam YZ250F) XC2 Pro Lites
12. Jesse Robinson (Monster/Pro Circuit Kaw KX250) XC1 Pro
13. Josh Strang (FMF Suz RM250) XC1 Pro
14. Jason Gilleland (RidePG.com KTM 250XC-F) XC2 Pro Lites
15. Andrew Matusek (Team Green KX250F) 4-Stroke A
16. Bryan Henson (KTM 250XC) XC1 Pro
17. Scott Watkins (Monster/Pro Circuit Kaw KX250F) XC2 Pro Lites
18. P A Allen (Monster/Pro Circuit Kaw KX250F) XC2 Pro Lites
19. Justin Williamson (Red Bull KTM 250XC-F) XC2 Pro Lites
20. Russell Bobbitt (Red Bull KTM 250XC-F) XC1 Pro