Salminen Takes Georgia GNCC

Kit Palmer | March 14, 2005

The following is a release from GNCC Racing –

He faces rock, sand, dirt and the best riders in the U.S., but KTM Factory off-road sensation Juha Salminen (111) keeps making America’s toughest races look easy. At the Maxxis General GNCC, Juha jumped out to the early lead, and his teammate Mike Lafferty and Am Pro Yamaha’s Barry Hawk tried in vain to keep him in sight. By the finish, Juha had a big lead again, winning the second Suzuki Grand National Cross Country event of his career over 1500 other racers.

“Mike was riding good early, and then I got the pitboard telling me Barry Hawk was coming,” said Juha. “I just try to go the same speed every lap. I went the same speed every lap. You know all the tracks are going to be different, but if you’re going to ride them, you might as well try to win.” Juha might be winning, but it doesn’t even look like he’s trying. The friendly rider from Finland looks to be cruising when he’s out front, looks clean after the race, and even when he’s hanging out in the pits he demonstrates a cool demeanor which belies the determined competitor who has taken America’s largest off-road series by the throat.

The competition is trying hard to reel him in. Lafferty led early, lost time, and then survived an all-out duel with Hawk to emerge second.

“It’s never been a matter of conditioning with me,” said Lafferty, who is known for sprinting early but has struggled to keep his pace for three hours. “It’s just a matter of doing it and breaking through. I always seem to make the wrong decision on the last lap, but today I made good ones.”

Hawk needed to make a run at Salminen in Georgia, but he couldn’t get it done. After a bad start he charged all the way up to second, setting up the Salminen versus Hawk duel fans had been waiting for all year. Hawk started inching up, but then he crashed. “I can even count how many times Mike and I passed each other,” said Hawk. “I finally got to second and started inching up on Juha. I washed out in a corner, it was stupid. That kind of took all the energy out of me, and that’s when I stopped trying to catch him. On the last lap we got to this mud hole and I knew Mike was there and I had to either get around him or crash trying. I picked a bad line and got suck.”

Hawk seemed disappointed to let a chance to steal the momentum in the series slip away. “Those guys were definitely flooring it early,” said Hawk. “I tried my best to catch up to them and not push too hard and get tight. I definitely feel like I can win, I just need to stop making mistakes.”

A seemingly error-free ride brought Shane Watts to the front again, finishing a solid fourth on his KTM 125SX. With two solid finishes in a row, Watts is slowly rebuilding toward his old race-winning pace. Fifth went to Kawasaki Team Green’s Chuck Woodford. He wasn’t happy with his ride, but the points put him much higher in the standings than he usually is this time of year.

“I just made too many mistakes, and I couldn’t get a drive going,” said Woodford.

Salminen continues to lead the standings over his teammate Lafferty. KTM’s rejuvenated off-road effort continues to reap rewards.

Meanwhile disappointment reigns through other pit areas. Jason Raines looked to finally have a drive going when he passed Watts and moved into fourth past the midway point, but the Am Pro Yamaha rider lost his rear brakes and had to pit. Similarly, FMF/’s Steve Hatch was running up front until he lost the pin in his rear brake and dropped off the pace. His teammate Cole Calkins crashed hard early and broke his arm. FMF Suzuki’s Glenn Kearney struggled in the tight, rutted conditions and ended up 12th.

Kit Palmer | Off-Road Editor

Kit Palmer started his career at Cycle News in 1984 and he’s been testing dirt and streetbikes every since – plus covering any event that uses some form of a knobby tire. He’s also our resident motorcycle mileage man with a commute of 120 miles a day.