2020 High Point GNCC Results: After having to settle for a disappointing second to Josh Strang at the previous round in Georgia, FMF/KTM’s Kailub Russell got back to his winning ways in Pennsylvania, claiming his fifth win of the season at round six of the Grand National Cross Country Series at High Point Raceway in Mount Morris.
The win, however, did not come easily for the FMF/KTM Team rider mostly because of the challenging track conditions and heavy lappers. Russell said afterward that he didn’t ride well despite taking the victory.
Track conditions were indeed tough. The racecourse was slippery from a small amount of rain that fell during the day and most of the riders struggled, not just Russell. The track was also dusty at times. The defending champ, however, is always critical of himself but his performance appeared to be stellar and quite consistent, despite what he felt.
“I got a pretty good start,” said Russell. “I felt pretty good straightaway. I’ve been struggling a little bit, so I did a little bit of a warmup routine before the race, and I felt better the first half a lap. I was able to stretch it out but then got into lappers, and I kind of tanked myself. It’s just frustrating. I’m glad to win, but I’m not really happy with the ride, to be honest with you. I know it’s part of the sport, but those lappers are so slow and it’s dangerous. It’s just frustrating. That’s all I can say.”
In fact, Russell lost his voice from yelling at lappers to move out of the way.
Despite getting off to a terrible start, Strang (Babbitt’s Online/Monster Energy/Team Green Kawasaki) finished a close second to Russell in a race that got interesting on the final lap. Strang botched the start and was way down but still inside the top-10 on the opening lap. It wasn’t until lap three when he found his pace and started to move to the front, which eventually put Strang into second behind Russell.
The Aussie played cat and mouse with Russell, moving to within 10-seconds of the leader when Russell hit the ground on the final lap, but he couldn’t get any closer and took the checkers 12 seconds behind Russell.
“I don’t know what happened on the start,” said Strang. “I did some practice starts earlier and was fairly confident. It took me a lap and a half before I passed anyone. So, I wasn’t happy with how I was riding. I was just bummed because it was almost like the day was over before it even started. Once I started passing people, I started getting past them a little quicker. Once I got into second, I just rode my own race and rode well. I caught up to Kailub a bit there. Once he’s in front he’s always hard to catch.”
AmPro Yamaha’s Layne Michael started the race strong and claimed the $100 All Balls Holeshot award, even though Russell thought he had actually claimed the holeshot. The two fought elbow to elbow to reach the line. Michael ran second for the first few laps of the race, but eventually tangled with a lapper and went down, dislocating his shoulder.
“I wanted to get out front early because I knew it was going to be dusty,” said Michael. “I didn’t know if I got the holeshot or not, but Kailub and I were close. He ended up going ahead of me, so I was just keying off him. He pulled I think it was 24 seconds when I changed goggles and then I knocked it down to 10. I was able to catch him. But then a lapper hopped in-between us, and I just changed my line. I clipped a root at the base of a tree and swapped out. It wasn’t a hard crash by any means, it was just how I landed on my shoulder, and I felt it pop out. I tried getting it back in myself out on the track. I was throwing my arm all over the place, but I couldn’t get it back in. I came back and we got it back in. I was going to go back out but Dr. McGee advised me not to. It’s frustrating.”
Third place was a battle all day between Phoenix Honda’s Andrew Delong, FactoryONE Sherco’s Grant Baylor, who, as usual, came from the back of the pack after a poor start, and FMF/KTM’s Ben Kelley, who eventually prevailed when both the Honda and Sherco expired near the end of the race. Kelley is still recovering from shoulder surgery earlier in the year and was feeling the pain near the end of the three-hour race.
“I felt like I was riding pretty good, but still, I know that I’m not as strong,” said Kelley. “I just struggle in some parts where I just don’t have that upper body strength to muscle the bike. I felt like I was riding good the first few laps, but Andrew and Grant passed me and then they’d crash or I’d get back by. I felt I just stayed steady the whole race. Just stayed smooth and did what I could.”
Like most of the rest of the riders, Jordan Ashburn (Babbitt’s Online/Monster Energy/Team Green Kawasaki) said he felt like he struggled all day, but his consistency rewarded him with fourth place.
“I just never really felt comfortable on the track,” said Ashburn. “I never felt like I could really push hard. It’s just kind of a little greasy and hard to trust the bike.”
AmPro Yamaha’s Mike Witkowski had a good day, finishing fifth overall and edging out Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Craig Delong by less than a minute to win the XC2 division.
Witkowski started strong and entered the woods for the first time in third and then just settled into his pace.
Delong ended up sixth overall and second in the Pro 2 class, while fellow Husqvarna rider Draper came home in seventh overall and third in XC2. The XC2 class was competitive with all three riders taking turns at the lead.
FMF/KTM’s Josh Toth started well and was running inside the top five on the opening lap but struggled with the dust, dropped off the pace and eventually finished eighth.
“Kailub and Lane knew where to sprint and where to dust us out,” said Toth. “I tried to push through, but I’m still just a little sore and feeling it from last week’s crash. I did the best I could and stood up and just tried to avoid the major hits and big holes and just get through it, survive.”
Beta USA’s Cody Barnes continues to shine and turned in a consistent performance for ninth overall and fourth XC2 rider, while XC Gear/Enduro Engineering/Husqvarna’s Ryder Lafferty came in less than a minute behind to round out the top 10 and finish as the fifth XC2 rider.
The FMF XC3 125 ProAm class, Jason Raines won on his Raines Racing Yamaha, ahead of KTM-mounted Zack Hayes and Yamaha rider Nathan Ferderer. This has been a great battle all year, with Hayes leading the point standings. Hayes and Raines both have three wins.
Beta USA’s Rachel Gutish grabbed the holeshot to start the WMX class and led the first three laps, looking fully capable of taking her first win of the year. However, the battle between BABS/Fly/Maxiss Yamaha’s Becca Sheets, who had won every round to this point, and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Tayla Jones, carried the duo past Gutish on lap four, the final lap. Then, with just six miles to go, Jones put on an impressive push to overtake Sheets and secure her first win of the year.
Sheets ended up second and MEPMX/Fly Racing/Grizzly Peak/Travelers Rest Speedway KTM’s Mackenzie Tricker finished third ahead of Gutish.
The next race on the schedule is The John Penton GNCC in Millfield, Ohio, June 28.
2020 Amsoil GNCC Series
High Point Raceway
Mount Morris, Pennsylvania
Results (June 14, 2020)
OVERALL (Top 10)