It was 2016 when Josh Strang claimed his last victory in GNCC competition. This year, the Babbitt’s Online/Monster Energy/Team Green Kawasaki rider has been in the hunt at every round, but seven-time champ Kailub Russell is pretty tough to beat in GNCC competition. At the beautiful Camp Coker complex in Society Hill, South Carolina, however, Strang got the job done. On a technical, rough and in places, sketchy seven-mile course, Strang topped Russell by a 35-second margin after Russell took a pretty hard digger while trying to cut into the eight-second lead Strang had on him with just three miles to go in the race.
Over 1500 entries filled the start grids for Sunday’s motorcycle action, and Strang and Russell put on a spectacular show for the fans, trading the lead several times during the course of the three-hour race.
Obviously, Strang was pleased with the win, crossing the finish line, fist in the air. “It feels pretty good,” said Strang. “It’s long overdue, but I feel like I’m riding well, and I feel like I’m in shape. It’s good.”
Strang was third behind Russell and AmPro Yamaha’s Layne Michael, as Russell led the pack through the first set of turns before heading into the woods.
Strang took the lead for the first time on lap two when Russell and Michael followed a lapper through a new line, while Strang used a well-worn trail to pass them both. Russell re-took the lead on the following lap when Strang pitted for fuel. On the next lap, it was Russell’s time to pit, and Strang used that opportunity to re-take the lead.
“I knew I’d have to gas the next lap, but I was able to get a good enough gap where I came out again in front,” said Strang. “I think there were parts of the track where he was faster and parts where I was a little bit quicker. He ended up catching me, but because he gassed so early, he had to gas again. So, once he gassed again, I tried to go again, but he caught me again going into the last lap. With half a lap to go, I had eight seconds on him, which I didn’t think was going to be enough, but then he crashed.”
Russell was icing down his ankle after the race. “Josh was riding really good,” said Russell. “I couldn’t make up a lot of time on him. I had a couple spots where I would kind of reel in on him because I was really flowing in the rutty stuff. I had a spot picked out where I made the pass the lap before and it was really hard to see, so I didn’t know if he would find the line. I was trying to stay right on him so when we got there I could make the pass.
“I was pushing hard, and we come out of the woods, then we turned left onto a road at the bottom. The berm, I got in the fluff and my bars knifed, and I endoed over the bars and there was a fence on my right-hand side. It threw me into the fence. My bike almost flipped over it. I hit it so hard, my chest was stuck between the post and the mesh fence. My bike was on my head, spinning. It was the craziest, scariest crash I’ve ever had.”
Grant Baylor put his FactoryONE Sherco on the podium with a third. As usual, the South Carolinian had to come from outside the top-10 to get the job done. It was Baylor’s first GNCC podium on the Sherco.
“I may have been a little over a minute behind the lead group there at one point,” said Baylor. “But once I started putting my head down on about lap three, I started getting pit boards saying I was a minute off of the podium. So I put my head down there and put in a good charge mid-race and was able to get around Layne (Michael) and FMF/KTM’s Josh Toth on the next-to-last lap there to move my way into third.”
Strang’s teammate Jordan Ashburn finished fourth.
Trail Jesters KTM Racing’s Johnny Girroir turned in one of his best performances of the year with a fifth overall finish, which was also good enough for first in the XC2 250 Pro class. Girroir led six of his eight laps in the XC2 class, and with his win, he moved into first in the class standings.
“I think I was more comfortable than most in the fast, sketchy straights,” said Girroir. “There was a lot of chop and square-edged bumps and it was scary, but I think I made up a lot of time in those.”
Toth stayed in third for most of the race but faded on the last two laps. “I don’t know if it’s from the heat or just still getting my fitness back, but I got really sick out there,” Toth said.
AmPro Yamaha’s Mike Witkowski finished 21 seconds behind Toth for seventh, and second in the XC2 250 Pro division.
Third in Georgia two weeks before, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s XC2 rider Craig Delong had an off day in eighth overall and third in the XC2 250 Pro class.
AmPro Yamaha’s Layne Michael admitted to having a bad day en route to ninth, which was disappointing after his fourth-place finish at the previous round.
After finishing an impressive fifth overall at the previous round in Georgia, XC Gear/Enduro Engineering/Husqvarna’s Ryder Lafferty was again running strong in South Carolina until he had his rear tire come off the rim, forcing him back to the pits. Lafferty still managed a 10th overall finish.
KTM rider Zack Hayes won the FMF XC3 125 Pro-Am class, which moved him six points ahead of Raines Racing’s Jason Raines in the class standings. Raines finished third at Camp Coker, behind Hayes and Yamaha-mounted Nathan Ferderer.
BABS/Fly/Maxxis Yamaha’s Becca Sheets kept her perfect record intact, making it five wins in a row in the WCX Women’s Elite division.
2020 Amsoil GNCC Championship
Camp Coker Bullet GNCC
Society Hill, South Carolina
RESULTS (May 31, 2020)
2020 Camp Coker Bullet GNCC Results