Fresh off a win at the final round of the American Can-Am Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) Series last weekend, Red Bull KTM's Nathan Kanney scored the victory at the final round of the Japan National Cross Country (JNCC) Series, the AAGP, held at the Sugo Circuit in Japan.
Kanney, racing along with fellow GNCC racer Thad DuVall as an invited guest of the JNCC tour, had to fight a local star for the win. Former All-Japan National Motocross Champion Takeshi Koikeda pushed hard for the first half of the race and even passed Kanney to take the lead at one point, but eventually Kanney's experience in the three-hour race format allowed him to pull away and secure the victory, earning 100,000 YEN for his efforts. Koikeda finished second, matching his runner-up ride in last year's AAGP. DuVall finished third on his Am-Pro Yamaha.
"Simply being invited to come race in Japan is an honor in itself," said Kanney, who raced a KTM 300 XC. "To leave Japan with a victory after such a great battle is just icing on the cake. I really want to thank JNCC for bringing me to the race, and Red Bull KTM for flying a bike from Austria here for me."
Kanney answers Japanese questions in English on the podium.
JNCC President Masami Hoshino invited Kanney and GNCC XC2 Pro Lites Champion DuVall to compete in the event, continuing a tradition of bringing American GNCC racers over to compete in the JNCC finale. Last year, American Charlie Mullins won the event. In an exchange, two Japanese racers will compete in the opening rounds of the 2009 GNCC Series in March.
The JNCC events mimic the American GNCC races in many ways. The AAGP event featured a course that twisted through hilly, rough, woods trails, as well as laps on the Sugo motocross track that also hosts a round of the FIM World Motocross GPs.
JNCC events begin with a unique live-engine, left-hand-on-helmet start procedure. Koikeda grabbed the holeshot, while Kanney came through the first turn in the top five. DuVall, who logged the fastest lap times in practice on the motocross track a day earlier, tangled with another rider and went down in the first turn.
Multi-time Japanese Motocross Champion Takeshi Koikeda finished second.
Kanney quickly grabbed the lead, but Koikeda was on his game and would not let him get away without a fight. As the lead duo began to check out, DuVall began working through the pack on his YZ250F and by the end of the second lap closed to within five seconds of the leaders. "After I went down in the first turn I just put my head down and charged," said DuVall. "I really liked the track and was able to put down a couple of solid laps. Before I knew it, I had Takeshi and Nate in my sights."
DuVall's hunt for victory would come unraveled through bad luck, though. "Unfortunately, on the third lap, I was going down a straightaway fourth gear pinned and at the end of it found out that my rear brake had gone out," said DuVall. "It was a pretty scary deal. I was heading right into a thick group of pines and somehow made it out in one piece! The brakes kept fading in and out all day, and then by the end of the fourth lap, fifth gear had gone out of my transmission so I just put it on cruise control to keep myself in a solid third place position."
DuVall ran into a few mechanical troubles but ended up third.
While DuVall fell off the pace with bike troubles, the battle between Kanney and Koikeda heated up. Kanney crashed going up a very tricky uphill section, and Koikeda raced past to get into the lead. "We were really pushing the pace and I was worried about being able to keep it up like that for the entire three hours," said Kanney. "After Takeshi got around my I was content to keep on his heels and let him lead for a while and figure out a good way to get around him."
After the halfway point of the race, the intense pace took its toll on Koikeda--primarily a motocrosser--and he began to slow, opening the door for Kanney to regain the lead and open up a comfortable margin.
"I got around Takeshi and just tried to put down some solid laps and build a comfortable margin," said Kanney. "With 30 minutes to go I got the pit board saying I had a four minute lead and from there I just put it on cruise control and came in for the win."
JNCC Final Round: The AAGP
November 2, 2008
1. Nathan Kanney
2. Takeshi Koikeda
3. Thad DuVall
4. Yohei Kono
5. Masahiro Kobayashi
6. Masami Ishii
7. Yutaro Uchiyama
8. Chirshi Sawaki
9. Kazuhiro Yoshikawa
10. Jun Ohkawara