RER Motorcity Yamaha privateer Nathan Kanney proved he is no fluke, as the young New York prospect closed the 2006 Suzuki Grand National Cross Country Series by winning the Klotz Ironman GNCC. It's the second GNCC win of Kanney's career—and his first win came just one race ago. This one was convincing, too. Kanney's previous win came in front of his home fans at Unadilla, but this one held no such advantages, and yet he ran down the fastest GNCC racers and then outdueled Am Pro Yamaha's Charlie Mullins and Barry Hawk to win the race.
"I really wanted to prove to myself that it wasn't a hometown thing at Unadilla," said Kanney. "At the beginning of the race I really didn't think I was going to get on the podium at all. I was really tight. Then once I started loosening up and finding better lines, I started getting smoother. Then it started happening. I started riding faster just exponentially, every lap was faster and faster and I was using less energy. I caught Barry and Charlie. That was the story after that. I don't even know how it happened. It's just working out."
Early in the race it seemed like Mullins was going to dominate, as he opened up a big early lead. But then he made a few mistakes and the battle was on. "I got off to a good start, and the first few laps I was feeling good," said Mullins, who completes his first full season in the pro class ranked third. "I made a mistake on a hill, and Barry and Nathan caught up to me. And they were riding really good. It seemed like we battled to the end. On the last lap I was battling Nate, and I fell in some water. I got completely soaked, and I bumped my arm on a rock, which kind of hurt. But I wasn't going to give up."
Kanney had been battling Mullins until Mullins crashed. Hawk took over second in a wild scene that saw he and Mullins pushing and pulling their bikes through some mud, and they carried their battle into the grass track where they went back and forth. Hawk appeared to have second in hand until he and Mullins came together in the final few feet of track.
"My teammate took me out," said Hawk. "I didn't think it would happen, but he just cleaned my clock. He's got one coming. It's been clean racing and friendly all year and then he does this in the last turn of the year. But that's racing, and he got second and I got third. Congratulations to Nathan, he just flat out beat us and smoked us today."
Mullins said the move for second was unintentional. "Right there at the finish, I had a line to use just in case it came down to that for the win," said Mullins. "So I used that line, but I guess it wasn't as fast as I thought. I didn't intend to wreck him or anything. It's racing and everything, but I want to be known as a clean rider."
Mullins led early, then Hawk caught him and they battled for the lead. Then Hawk fell in a water crossing and Mullins crashed on a hill, opening the door for Kanney. "It was good racing," said Hawk. "I was right there with Nathan, and we came down the steep hill into the creek. He got onto the bank pretty good, and then I was at the bottom ready to take off and I just fell over. I don't know if there was a root on the bottom or something, I don't know. But I'm glad for Yamaha to sweep the podium, the bikes are awesome."
The big battle for the top three overshadowed the final GNCC performance for Juha Salminen, the 2005 and 2006 GNCC Champion. Salminen once again rode the KTM 250XC-F four-stroke in a test for the ISDE and for his return to the World Enduro Championships in 2007. The 250 four-stroke was definitely at a disadvantage, but Salminen rode it well.
"It's a great bike, but it's not a 250 two-stroke or a 450," said Salminen. "I had fun. Today was definitely the most posters I signed of any day I have been here. I am really happy that I came to the U.S. The fans were really nice to me, and they can make it very hard on you if they don't like you. So I guess I did something right! I came here for a new challenge and it worked like I hoped it would. I thank everyone for the good times I had here." Salminen put together arguably the two most dominant seasons in GNCC history, with two titles, 17 wins and 23 podiums in 26 races. He will be missed on the tour, even by his competitors.
Salminen is not the only rider headed to Europe. Kanney has also inked a deal with the Factory Husqvarna team to compete in the '07 World Enduro Championships. He will move to Italy this winter. "This will be my last GNCC for I don't even know how long," said Kanney. "I was talking to Barry and he said after he won his first GNCC, he didn't win another one for almost two years. I though about that and realized I didn't want that feeling, so I wanted to get another win. But next year in Europe I will definitely be the rookie, so I don't know when I'll get another win."
Parts Unlimited/Moose Honda's Paul Whibley finished a solid fifth, which matches his impressive fifth-overall ranking for the 2006 season. Robbie Jenks, Jimmy Jarrett, Glenn Kearney, Shane Watts and Jesse Robinson rounded out the top ten.
The race also marked the end of an era for GNCC veterans Rodney Smith and Fred Andrews. Smith, the five-time GNCC Champion, withdrew from the race, but will return next year in a PR and coaching role with the FMF/Suzuki team. Andrews will manage the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team, but he rode so well at the last two GNCCs that he hinted of a return. "I really got to battle with these guys today, and that's what makes it fun," said Andrews, who grabbed the $100 Racer X Holeshot Award for the second straight race. "I don't know what I'm going to do. Maybe I'll race a few races or maybe I'll race all of them."
Andrews was riding well early, but he crashed and broke his front brake off.
Next year, World Enduro Champion David Knight will take Salminen's place in the KTM rig. Knighter will be strong, but the GNCC pack is determined to battle him.
"You need podiums to win championships, and that's what I always thought until Juha came along," said Hawk. "He gets on the podium at every race but he wins most of them. Knight is going to ride good. He only came over for one race and we beat him, but you never know. Juha came over for one race in '04 and he didn't win. But I don't think it's going to be a cakewalk for Knight for sure. Juha definitely raised the bar, and we're going to fight Knight all the way to the end."
The top amateur award went to Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki's Scott Watkins, who won the 250 A class and finished 11th overall.
The race was taped for an airing on the Versus Network (formerly OLN). The shows air weekly on Saturdays and Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m.
The AMA-sanctioned Suzuki Grand National Cross Country series is America's premier off-road racing series. The 13-round series is produced exclusively by Racer Productions. Cross-country racing is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. The nearly three-hour long GNCC races lead as many as 1800 riders through tracks ranging from eight to twelve miles in length. With varied terrain including hills, woods, mud, dirt, rocks and motocross sections, GNCC events are tests of both survival and speed. GNCC featured sponsors include Parts Unlimited, Moose, Maxxis, Pirelli, Wiseco, Klotz, FMF, ITP and Tire Balls, and riders compete for over $3 million in series prizes and contingency money. Associate sponsors include Moose Utility Division, Scott, Acerbis, Alpinestars, Cometic, Outerwears, Twin Air, Polisport Plastics, Thor, Motion Pro, Hyper Wheels, Elka Suspension, MotoTee's, Weekend Warrior, Race Tools, Powersports GrafX, EK Chain and Laeger's. Media Sponsors include Dirt Rider Magazine, ATV Sport Magazine, www.ATVRiders.com and Racer X Illustrated. For more information log on to www.GNCCRacing.com.