Multi-time World Enduro Champion Juha Salminen, of Finland, won the opening round of the 2005 Suzuki Grand National Cross Country Series in Gilmer, Texas, February 13, following a race-long battle with KTM teammate Mike Lafferty and Suzuki’s newest recruit Glenn Kearney of Australia. After displacing early front-runners Doug Blackwell, Chuck Woodford and Shane Watts, Salminen, Kearney and Lafferty engaged in a three-way battle that would carry them to a 30-second advantage over fourth place by the second lap.
The extremely rocky terrain created havoc for some of the riders, including lap-one casualty and pre-race favorite Barry Hawk, who DNFed when a rock broke his front brake line. Another was Fred Andrews, riding the new Suzuki RMZ450, who was forced to pit when a rock punctured his radiator.
By the final lap, Salminen had established himself as the lead rider, while Kearney slipped past Lafferty for second.
Finishing fourth was the Team Green Kawasaki-mounted Woodford, followed by Throttlehead.com Kawasaki’s Steve Hatch.
“It is great to start off with a win, but I really did not know what to expect,” Salminen said. “I have not ridden against these riders. The track was rough. I tried a few times to pull away but I would make a mistake. Finally, one time, I was able to pull away. I was just a little nervous early on, but I am happy now.”
Kearney made it two newcomers to the series in the top two. “This is even more than I expected,” the Australian Enduro Champion, Kearney said. “I have such great support from this team, and I’m glad to be racing here. We went a little fast early on today, and I did get fatigued with two laps to go, but I just never gave up.”
Finishing third, Lafferty got the dubious top-American honors. “You know, it just aggravates the heck out of me because I really wanted to win,” Lafferty said. “When those guys want to race like that, go fast early, I have no problems with it. I was comfortable. But the race is won on the last lap, and I wanted to put myself in position to do it, but it fell apart on me. I tried to get a little aggressive and I got tangled with a lapper. Juha went around, and then he swapped out, and I tried to pass him and got tangled in some bushes.”
Woodford was happy to get his best start ever in the GNCC season. “I had the speed and everything I needed today, I just let it get away from me,” Woodford said. “I should have ridden a few more rocky tracks leading up to this race. But we’ve really been putting in the extra effort this season to be ready.”