The following is a release from GNCC Racing:
Now it’s officially a big win streak for KTM’s Juha Salminen. At round four of the Suzuki Grand National Cross Country Series, the Pirelli Big Buck GNCC, the 10-time World Enduro Champion from Finland jetted out to his patented early lead and simply rode away from the field. His win streak now stands at four this season, and seven if you count winning the last three races in 2005. But still, the friendly Finn is not about to slack off.
“Every race, in your head, you have a special place, you can’t think about what happened last week or last year. You never know what’s going to happen,” says Salminen, who hails from Vantaa, Finland. “I didn’t get such a good start, but the first part of the track was pretty wide, so I passed some of the guys there before I got to the single track. There were a lot of lapped riders, but I would just scream and yell, and they would go away. It is kind of funny, some of the guys, they are racing but they will pull over and clap for you, like they are spectators! It was fun today.”
If Salminen had not pulled away with a huge lead, the fight for the win would have been amazing. Six riders battled hard all day for second. In the end, 20-year-old super rookie Charlie Mullins amazed the field again by charging through that pack and netting second.
“I had a good jump off the start, but my back end came around and I crashed,” said Mullins, of Hamilton, Ohio. “I went to dead last, and honestly, I knew I had a long day in front of me. I think I was in the right place at the right time, because some of the guys made mistakes and I got to pass them clean. I couldn’t be happier with second, I mean, I want to win, but with what I went through today, I’ll take it. The track was tight. I went over the bars at one point and scraped my elbow. Then I saw the two-lap board and I just put my head down and charged. I felt real strong on the last lap.”
With Salminen and Mullins gone, a battle remained for third, and a familiar old face emerged with it: five-time GNCC Champion Rodney Smith. After breaking his leg before the 2005 GNCC season, Smith, of Antioch, California, hadn’t made the GNCC podium in 18 months.
“I wasn’t expecting to be up here today, I was just trying to get in the top five,” said Smith, who has decided to go into a more conservative mode after crashing hard at the first three rounds. “I rode my own race – I didn’t even think about the leader. I got stronger at the end like I usually do. The last few races I’ve been getting tired, but today I felt strong all the way to the end.”
Smith had to survive a big battle with Barry Hawk and Mike Lafferty down the stretch to get third. “It was good racing,” said Smith. “I made a mistake in a mudhole, and Barry went by me, but I thought if I could just stay with him maybe I could get him back, and then he clipped a tree and crashed.”
Hawk, of Smithfield, Pennsylvania, was disappointed to end up fourth, although it was still much better than his other rides this year. “If anyone has a start for sale, I’ll pay you double your money back on it,” said Hawk, who got tangled with other riders off the start and had to dig his way from the back. “I caught that pack, and I felt like I was on the verge of getting past it, but every time I would get there something stupid would happen and I would be at the back of it again. I think I might have been the fastest out of that group, and if I could have gotten to the front I could have pulled away like Mullins.”
Instead Hawk found himself battling hard with Smith for third, and he nearly pulled it off. “I knew Rodney was going to be tough on me, because he’s been doing this for a long time and he knows what to do,” said Hawk. “He went to the right in a mudhole, and I went to the left. I knew I was going to hit him, so I tried my best not to hit him with my bike. I just touched him, and got around. Then I got to the top of a hill, and I wanted to try to get as far away as I could so he couldn’t pass me in the grass track near the finish. Then I crashed at the top of the hill.”
Hawk finished fourth while Lafferty, the seven-time AMA National Enduro Champion from Millville, New Jersey, was fifth.
The Pirelli Big Buck GNCC drew over 1200 individual riders between the Youth, ATV and bike classes. The race was taped for an airing on the Outdoor Life Network as part of the Racer TV Series. GNCC TV airs every Saturday and Wednesday at 3 p.m. The Big Buck event will begin airing on Saturday, May 13th.