Josh Strang (Babbitt’s Online/Monster Energy/Team Green Kawasaki) came out on top of a ferocious final-lap battle with AmPro Yamaha’s Steward Baylor to win the Ironman GNCC in Crawfordsville, Indiana, October 25.
The win was Strang’s second of the year and it reinforced his second-place standing in the series points with one round remaining. Kailub Russell (FMF/KTM) wrapped up the title at the previous round in West Virginia.
Over 2400 riders competed in this year’s Ironman, while right at 12,000 spectators braved the cold on an overcast but great day for racing.
Strang led the entire 13.5-mile final lap, and Baylor was all over Strang’s rear tire until the seven-mile mark, when the South Carolina rider didn’t make it up Ironman Hill and had to make a second run. The mistake gave Strang all the breathing room he needed, and the Aussie eventually crossed the finish line with 4.5 seconds to spare over Baylor.
“Stew and I were going for it,” said Strang. “I figured he was going to push hard to try and get past me, but I felt like I was in control, so I think that’s what got me the win today. I didn’t make any mistakes, and he made that mistake on the last lap, and I was able to just kind of ride it in a little easier.”
Baylor, who came into the Indiana race having won the previous three rounds, led most of the way after jumping out front early, and controlled the pace for the first half of the race, but lappers held him up and Strang was able to get past during a pit stop.
“It was pretty sketchy out there with the traffic and Josh was able to get close enough to pass me in the pits and from there he controlled the race,” said Baylor. “I tried to make a run at him. I was bumping off his back tire, giving it everything I had, but he was just able to edge me out there in the end. Just one big mistake there on that hill. I got in his roost. I knew to steer clear. You’re steering clear all day and our lines just came together. I got blasted in the face and I couldn’t see. It is what it is. I feel like I rode a really good race and he just rode a better one.”
Ben Kelley (FMF/KTM), who extended his streak of podiums to four-straight, made a late race charge to move ahead of Russell to claim third after running midpack at the start of the race.
“I’ve never seen an Ironman this fast and I just wasn’t feeling it early on,” said Kelley. “After that first pit, I kind of didn’t really have a choice. I had to pick it up or I’d get left behind, so I kind of just got more aggressive and was kind of flowing through the bumps better, using the power of the bike and not over-riding it. I just kind of found my flow there and made a late race charge.”
Kelley caught up with AmPro Yamaha’s Layne Michael, who was right on Russell’s rear wheel, and the threesome freight-training for a while, until Kelley was able to pass Michael in the pits and Russell a short time later.
For a while, Strang, Baylor, Kelley and Russell ran in a group out front, until Strang and Baylor were able to pull away.
Russell settled for fourth, the only time he has missed the podium this year.
“I felt pretty good at the beginning, but I made a little mistake and Stew got around me, so I was keying off of him,” said Russell. “We caught lappers on the second lap and I got tangled up with the first guy we came up to and I went down, jammed my throttle tube and my throttle was hanging up a little bit so I had to ride with it a lap and half before we pitted. It was tough to ride with that; I lost my mojo a little bit. I got it back to where it wasn’t sticking anymore but I lost a good amount of time in the pits.”
After being in the hunt with two laps to go, Michael rounded out the top five.
“It was a pretty insane day, really, we were close all day,” said Michael. “That last lap I crashed coming into the white-flag lap. I lost 25 seconds there and just kind of rode it into the finish. It’s a big step in the right direction. I put two solid races together now. That’s something I struggled with beginning of the year. It just shows I’m kind of finding momentum here and starting to gel and kind of getting the results that everyone kind of expected.”
FactoryONE Sherco’s Grant Baylor had an off day and settled for sixth after getting off to a slow start.
The battle for the XC2 250 Pro division crown intensified after Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Craig DeLong took a hard-fought win, which left him sitting atop the class standings with an 11-point advantage over AmPro Yamaha’s Mike Witkowski, who was third in class and 10th overall for the day.
DeLong’s performance also earned him seventh overall. “I knew it was go time coming into this weekend,” said DeLong. “We were all within six points and it was time to make it happen. I tried to do my best and I think that’s what we did. There was about five of us together for about two hours of the race and it was a lot of fun. With about two laps to go I found my groove and I knew it was time to go. I made my way through the pack and I got into the lead. I went an extra lap than everybody else on fuel and got away, although I got stuck on Ironman Hill the last two laps. Definitely wasn’t good for me. I was feeling like my heart was going to come out of my chest, but I made it happen and it was a lot of fun out there.”
Babbitt’s Online/Monster Energy/Team Green Kawasaki’s Lyndon Snodgrass was second in the XC2 250 Pro division and eighth overall.
Babbitt’s Online/Monster Energy/Team Green Kawasaki’s Jordan Ashburn finished ninth, two minutes ahead of Witkowski in 10th.
In the Women’s WXC race, AmPro Yamaha’s Rachael Archer claimed her fifth win in a row. The New Zealander has been on an absolute rampage the last half of the season. Archer finished about 3:28 ahead of Beta USA’s Rachel Gutish, who is another rider that is on a tear. Gutish has had three seconds and a third in the last four races.
BABS/Fly/Maxxis/Yamaha-sponsored Becca Sheets, who wrapped up the class title at the previous race, was third, while Raines Racing Yamaha’s Prestin Raines was fourth in her debut in the Women’s WXC class.
Prestin Raines’ father, Jason Raines, made it two for two for the Raines family by capturing the win in the FMF XC3 125 Pro-Am class.
Class point leader Zack Hayes was second on a Coppersmith-sponsored KTM, while Jason Lipscomb (KTM) was third.
- Josh Strang (Kaw)
- Steward Baylor (Yam)
- Ben Kelley (KTM)
- Kailub Russell (KTM)
- Layne Michael (Yam)
- Grant Baylor (She)
- Craig DeLong (Hus)
- Lyndon Snodgrass (Kaw)
- Jordan Ashburn (Kaw)
- Mike Witkowski (Yam)