Steward Baylor, once again, let his riding do the talking at this weekend’s Burr Oak GNCC at Sunday Creek Raceway in Millfield, Ohio, September 27. After three hours of racing, Steward came away with his second win in a row, both coming on an Am Pro Yamaha.
Burr Oaks GNCC Win To Steward Baylor
The Grand National Cross Country Series returned to Sunday Creek Raceway for the second time in 2020 for the Burr Oak GNCC (the first trip there was for the John Penton GNCC in June), when land restrictions due to COVID-19 forced the cancellation at another venue.
FMF/KTM’s Ben Kelley grabbed the holeshot to start the afternoon race, but overshot the next turn, giving way to Babbitt’s Online/Monster Energy/Team Green Kawasaki’s Jordan Ashburn.
Baylor took over the lead when Ashburn made a mistake in the “John Penton” section. Kelley followed in second, while FMF/KTM’s Kailub Russell pursued in third.
Russell actually came into the Burr Oak with a mathematical chance of wrapping up his eighth XC1 title, but took a spectacular crash on the opening lap—also in the John Penton section. The crash destroyed Russell’s bike and sent him to the pits with a sore knee.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” said Russell. “I just got confused on my line choice in the John Penton section, we were on this little road and I thought I had already committed to the outside line, I was actually on the inside and I was going to drift out and when I drifted out there was a tree right in the center—it split the two lines—and I just wedged my knee up against that tree and my bike and actually just smashed it between there, knocked the wind out of myself having a hard time bending my knee, it feels like it’s locking up pretty good and I can feel some fluid in there.”
In a twisted bit of irony, Babbitt’s Online/Monster Energy/Team Green Kawasaki’s Josh Strang, the rider second to Russell in points and with the best chance of catching Russell in the title chase, stopped to help Russell after his crash, compromising his results. Russell publicly thanked Strang after the race.
Three laps into the three-hour race, Kelley made a push, closing in on Steward on a couple of occasions, but each time Steward would turn up the volume and pull away.
FactoryONE Sherco’s Grant Baylor was running third at this point, and spent the race holding off Ashburn, Phoenix Honda’s Andrew DeLong, Johnny Girroir and Am Pro Yamaha riders Layne Michael and Mike Witkowski, before finally pulling away to a solid third-place finish.
Up front, Steward managed to break away from Kelley in the dust and crossed the finish line with a 58-second gap.
“We worked hard this off-season and had some hiccups there in the middle part of the year, but I knew what I wanted,” said Steward. “I knew coming into this season when Kailub announced retirement I wasn’t going to have that many chances. Luckily, he slipped up there that first lap, and very seldom did you see Kailub miss a line. In the Penton section there was something that just gave me the advantage that I needed over Kailub. Once I got in the lead, I knew I could control it. The dust, that was the big factor today, being able to get up front, get in that lead, control the race. That third hour is absolutely brutal. I knew when Ben made a charge, I think lap three, I saw him running in and I was kind of just cruising there and it woke me up. Lap four I dropped the hammer and lap five I think I was beat and I saw that I was still putting time on him.”
For the second race in a row, Kelley claimed a strong runner-up finish.
“I got the holeshot, but almost wish I checked up so I could have not overshot the corner and been stuck in that dust first lap,” said Kelley. “I had a few little mistakes here and there but that’s typical GNCC style. I felt like I rode really good. Stew just beat me straight up. It was a fun race. The track was cool, tight and technical and had some fast, open stuff that you could really flow through. So overall a good race.”
Grant took third, another two minutes behind Kelley. “I actually got off to a pretty good start for once and stayed with the lead group there for a little ways,” said Grant. “Steward and Ben just seemed to break away from me there, and Kailub. Then not long after that I saw Kailub down there in the Penton section and stopped to check on him and then stopped and told some guys that he was down back there. After that I kind of lost track of Steward and Ben. Kind of just rode my race from there, tried to break back away from Jordan and Andrew and Layne there towards mid-race. I was able to get away from those guys and ride a solid third place. So, happy.”
Girroir Takes Over In XC2
Girroir continues to push Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Craig DeLong for the XC2 championship, the two riders entered the Burr Oak tied for the points lead in the division. However, Girroir took sole possession of the points lead with a strong performance that saw the Trail Jesters Racing KTM rider win the class, in addition to taking an impressive fourth overall finish on adjusted time.
“I finally figured out my starts and got the bike off the line,” said Girroir. “Going into the woods I was in the top five. I made some moves and caught the XC1 guys quick. They don’t want to let us by, so I kind of lost my flow there. Witkowski caught me and I made a mistake third lap in the John Penton section when a sapling grabbed my foot and ripped me off the bike. The bike fell into the weeds and it was hard to pick up. Mikey was right on my rear wheel, so I kind of put the hammer down again and battled back and forth with Andrew Delong a little bit. I just tried to stay mistake-free. Rode smooth and smart and came out on top. It was good.”
Ashburn rounded out the top five overall. “I think was third off the line and I then went in the woods in first when Ben went wide,” said Ashburn. “I led going into the Penton section, but I went down. Then towards the end of it, I just picked a weird line and a bunch of guys got around me. I pushed all day and found myself in fourth. Just pretty much stayed steady all day. I tried to work up and catch Grant, and he just seemed to inch away just a few seconds every lap. It was a tough track to push on. It was a tough track to make up time.”
Witkowski missed the top five overall by 12 seconds, but still put his Yamaha into second in the XC2 250 Pro class with a sixth overall finish. Meanwhile, Craig DeLong edged out his brother, Andrew, for seventh overall by 18 seconds and took third in the XC2 250 Pro division.
Girroir now leads Craig Delong by nine points in the Xc2 250 Pro class with three races remaining.
New Zealander Lyndon Snodgrass was ninth overall and fourth XC2 250 Pro rider on a Babbitt’s Online/Monster Energy/Team Green Kawasaki, while Beta USA’s Cody Barnes rounded out the top 10 overall and fifth in the Xc2 250 Pro class.
After stopping to help Russell, Strang managed to salvage 13th overall. The race was Strang’s first back since breaking his collarbone just over four weeks before.
“Honestly, I wasn’t real sure where I would be coming in there,” said Strang. “I did about three days and that was just last Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. I rode for about an hour each day. At about an hour-15 my shoulder started to get sore. So I figured I could try and race. We were like 50 points behind Kailub, so if I got to two hours today and it was too sore then I was just going to pull out and heal up, but it was honestly not too bad.”
In the Women’s WXC race, Am Pro Yamaha’s Rachel Archer claimed her third win in a row, moving to within 46 points of BABS/Fly/Maxiss/Yamaha-sponsored Becca Sheets in the class standings.
Archer had to work her way up after a bad jump off the gate. “I was dead last off the line,” said Archer. “Becca started her bike early and I got all confused, and then next thing you know I looked around and I’m the last one sitting on the line. So, I definitely made it hard for myself at the start. Then it took me a few miles to catch up to Kori Steede and I rode with her for a bit, and then she let me pass. Then I charged to catch up to Rachel (Gutish) and Becca, and then Becca made a mistake in the creek section. I rode with Rachel and got past her and just didn’t look back.”
Sheets rode a steady race for second, with Rachel Gutish taking advantage of a holeshot to claim third.
Steede was fourth on a TM, with Brooke Cosner finishing fifth on a FactoryONE Sherco.
Zack Hayes (KTM) grabbed his fourth win of the season in the FMF XC3 125 Pro-Am class, extending his lead in the class standings to 35 points ahead of Raines Racing Yamaha’s Jason Raines.
Raines was fourth on the day, with James Lipscomb (KTM) and Michael Delosa (KTM) in second and third.
Burr Oak GNCC
Sunday Creek Raceway
RESULTS (September 27, 2020)
OVERALL (Top 10)
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