And just like that we’re two rounds into the 2012 Can-Am GNCC series! All the build up and preseason hype is gone and after two rounds we have a pretty clear picture of the contenders in both the XC1 and XC2 classes. I mentioned this in the Stopwatch but I’ll repeat it again here—with the close battles we’ve seen in the first two rounds this is shaping up to be another fantastic season of racing.
The series heads to Morganton, NC next weekend for the Steele Creek GNCC and it could shake up the tight points chase we have going as it is a track that historically Charlie Mullins has ridden well at and Paul Whibley has struggled. Last year after convincingly winning the Georgia GNCC, Whibley struggled finishing a distant 5th-place nearly 5-minutes behind the battle for first between Josh Strang and Charlie Mullins. After a tough first two rounds, Kailub Russell finished a solid 4th—coming off his win in Georgia KR’s confidence is riding high so don’t be surprised to see him battling for another win next weekend.
After two 2nd-place finishes on the “old” KTM 450 SX-F, also known as the one with a carburetor, it’s looking like Charlie Mullins will be riding the “new” EFI 450 SX-F next weekend at Steele Creek. Charlie’s struggles with the new bike in the National Enduro series have been well documented, but he’s confident that the KTM Factory has worked out all the bugs on the machine and he wants to race it in the GNCCs. Charlie told me that he wasn’t as comfortable on his “old faithful” machine as he thought he’d be in Florida and Georgia, and he has been practicing on the new bike. An interesting note regarding the durability of the bike; Mullins has been riding the same practice bike since before the National Enduro Series started and raced an FTR and the Burnt Gin Hare Scramble on it without any issue. With one championship pretty much down the drain for Charlie, I can’t imagine him risking the GNCC title unless he was 100% confident the bike will be ready for a 3-hour GNCC.
Rory Mead came seemingly out of nowhere on his WMR/KTM in Florida to score his first GNCC XC1 podium on a KTM 350, but there’s a chance we couldn’t see him at anymore GNCCs for a while after Steele Creek or Big Buck. The rumor had been floating around for a while prior to the season that Rory’s Visa was only good for the first three or four rounds of the season and we’re hearing that Rory has yet to get his Visa renewal sorted so we’ll have to see how this all shakes out. Rory wasn’t able to duplicate his performance from Florida at the 2nd round in Georgia, but he still sits 5th in the series points and it would be a big blow to the XC1 Pro Class and to the WMR team if he’s not able to contest every round this year.
Speaking of Visa issues, it sounds like Steele Creek could be the last GNCC for Japanese rider Takeshi Koikeda as well, at least for a little while. I got to go riding this week with Takeshi and Charlie Mullins, and basically what I could gather from Takeshi is that he has applied for an athlete’s Visa but the application has not gone through so unless something changes he’ll have to head back to his home country of Japan until it gets approved. Takeshi moved to Mooresville, NC with his wife and daughter, rented a house for a year and even bought an old GMC pickup to haul his bikes around. It’s awesome to see riders like this pack up and move to come contest the series, the commitment, dedication, and sacrifice made by the riders and their family is pretty crazy and it sucks that a visa issue could keep him from racing the whole season.
How about old “Bad Thad” DuVall with top-5 finishes at both rounds to start out the season? Thad has struggled keeping his Shenandoah Honda running in the National Enduros but he showed some serious maturity and glimpses of his infamous speed at both rounds. Thad tweeted that he wasn’t happy with 5th, and that’s well and good but he’s currently 4th in the series points and if he can keep his head on straight and build off these results the podiums will come and he could be a championship contender before the season is over, something people have wanted to see out of Thad for quite some time. Another thing I have to give Thad a shout out for, is his sweet looking Troy Lee Designs gear! Thad has been rocking some seriously loud colors, but it’s pretty refreshing to see after so many of the teams are having their guys wear all the same stuff and it’s hard to tell who is who out on the track.
Another Honda-mounted rider who put in a solid performance at round two is JG Off-Road’s Nate Kanney. After pulling out of the Florida race, Nate came out swinging in Georgia and at one point later in the race caught the lead pack of Russell, Whibley, and Mullins. It was good to see Nate rebound after his Florida performance and hopefully we’ll see him contending for more podiums here on out.
The Enduro World Championship season kicks off this weekend in Chile, and if you’re into that sort of thing definitely keep an eye on Jonty Edmund’s new site, www.enduro21.com. Jonty is on site in Chile and will be bringing all sorts of quality updates throughout the week.
The WORCS hits the very popular Lake Havasu course this weekend and we’re fortunate enough to have our good friend Courtney Savage on hand to Tweet live updates, so if you’re not following us on Twitter already be sure to do it now if you want to know what’s going on at that race.
I’m going to wrap it up here for this week, we’ll be back with more in next week’s 411. Hopefully the rest of the gang will be able to contribute a bit and we can hit on some of the action that we’ve seen in the ultra-competitive XC2 Pro Lites Class as well as some of the new faces we’ve seen in the A and B classes in the GNCCs so far. Have a good weekend!