Red Bull KTM's Mike Lafferty (pictured) did his homework in the weeks leading up to the Foggy Mountain Breakdown National Enduro, presented by Pivot Pegz, in Blain, Pennsylvania, round six of the AMA/FMF Racing National Enduro Series.
Noted for its uniquely demanding rocky terrain, the 34th annual race put on by the Susquehanna Off Road Riders - reportedly the first National in the Keystone State since 1988 - tested every competitor's bike setup as well as each racer's capacity to ride in the heat and humidity.
To prepare himself, Lafferty said, "We put a lot of work into this one, for sure. [Mechanic] Evan [Yarnall] and I, we rode a lot of rocks the last two weeks really getting ready for this race, and it paid off. I think our setup was really good; we had quite a bit of work with Factory Connection to do some suspension so I can't thank those guys enough."
Lafferty and his Michelin/Motores/KTM Hard Equipment-sponsored 450 XC-F asserted himself early, gaining a one-minute lead in the very first section after losing six minutes there while rival and teammate Russell Bobbitt was one of seven who dropped seven minutes there.
The eight-time and defending series champion kept that pace through the next two sections as well, putting a minute on the field in each of them before 19-year-old Pennsylvanian Jerod Stoner and New England standout Brooks Hamilton-both aboard KTM 300 XCs-matched him in the fourth test section, all three dropping five minutes.
Bobbitt crashed his FMF/GPR/Enduro Engineering 250 XC in that section, hurting his throttle hand and losing more ground before rebounding to respectability in the final two sections.
But by then, the damage had been done and he would end up off the podium for the first time this season. Instead, joining Lafferty were two new faces: Stoner in second and Hamilton in third, both with 39s to Lafferty's 35. Yamaha YZ250-mounted Jeff Melik edged Bobbitt for fourth, both with 40s.
Fred Hoess and Jake Korn carded 42s, with Hoess taking sixth. Cole Kirkpatrick earned eighth with his 43 while Brad Bakken and Ian Blythe rounded out the top 10 overall, both dropping 44 for the day, as did Aaron Kopp and Chris Gallt who ended up 11th and 12th, respectively.
Afterward, Bobbitt surmised he hadn't done enough pre-race testing to come up with a good setup: "The closest thing I rode to this would've been two days ago at Jerod Stoner's house, and even when I got done there I wasn't really 100-percent confident with my setup-I would've liked to have a couple more days riding in that stuff."
He shook his head and said, "I just kind of felt like a squid all day."
Lafferty's fourth win of the season chopped a huge chunk out of Bobbitt's series points lead, with the 2006 champ now holding a tenuous one-point lead, 142-141, unofficially. Bobbitt, however, plans to do all he can to swing momentum his way: "I'll be staying in Ohio the next two weeks with [my mechanic] Tony [Hall], just getting ready for the Ohio round, and I'll have to really boost it up there." Four rounds over the next three months remain.