Factory KTM rider Kailub Russell will lead a talented field of Pros into the 2014 AMSOIL Grand National Cross Country season opener in Florida this weekend; Grant Baylor hopes to defend XC2 title.
Factory FMF/KTM rider Kailub Russell is ready to rock, and it is time for the curtain to rise.
Following months of anticipation, the 2014 AMSOIL Grand National Cross Country Series presented by Maxxis and sanctioned by AMA kicks off this weekend, March 8 and 9, in Bunnell, Florida, for the inaugural running of the Moose Racing Mud Mucker GNCC. This weekend’s opener sets the stage for a potentially epic season of racing in both the XC1 Pro and XC2 Pro Lites classes, as the champions of each division–Russell (XC1) and Grant Baylor (XC2)–are return to defend their titles.
Ohio native Russell enters the 2014 season with the coveted number one plate, but he will be going up against several past GNCC champions, including Paul Whibley (2012/2009), Charlie Mullins (2011), Josh Strang (2010) and a surprise return, 2000 GNCC champion Shane Watts.
Factory FMF/KTM teammates Russell and Mullins were hot properties in 2013, the two riders combining to capture 12 of the 13 AMSOIL GNCC overall wins. Mullins was a fierce competitor all season long, but Russell pulled off the championship by grabbing six of the last seven victories. The points margine between the two men was a mere seven points in the final championship standings. Both riders will return to the lineup this season with hopes of capturing a second GNCC National Championship.
AmPro Yamaha’s Paul Whibley wasn’t able to fully defend his 2012 title last season after struggling through the first nine rounds with a nagging injury. Although the New Zealand native finished consistently inside the top 10, he made the decision to get surgery over the summer break. The two-time GNCC champ returned to capture two podium finishes at the final two rounds, and he appears to be ready to contend for the title once again this season.
The Johnny Campbell Racing (JCR) Honda team will make its much anticipated east coast debut this Sunday with third-ranked GNCC rider Chris Bach under the tent. With a privateer-backed program in 2013, Bach put forth one of the most consistent seasons of any top-10 rider. It obviously paid off as Bach returns with an increased level of support, and an all-new factory-backed Honda ride.
Australian native Josh Strang returns with an all-new program this season as the newest member of the AmPro Yamaha team, while maintaining many personal sponsors such as Rocky Mountain ATV/MC (read more about Josh Strang). He enters the 2014 season with the number four ranking, but the 2010 GNCC champion is expected to be a serious contender in this year’s title chase.
And then there’s 2008 XC2 Pro Lites champion Thad DuVall, who finished sixth overall last season after experiencing his fair share of mechanical failures throughout the year. Notably, DuVall was the only rider to beat both factory KTM riders Russell and Mullins for an overall victory in 2013 when a scored big win at round five. DuVall will return on a Honda machine this season with the support of a brand new program aboard the RideMPS.com/AMSOIL/Honda team.
Other significant contenders this season include AmPro Yamaha’s Jordan Ashburn, who proved to be a strong competitor last season. After a successful but injury-prone XC2 career, Factory Husqvarna’s Andrew DeLong will make his XC1 Pro debut in 2014 and will be joined by factory Huskqvarna teammate Mike Brown at round one. After a successful run in the XC2 Pro Lites Class, complete with the 2012 XC2 Championship, Maxxis/KLIM/DirtWise KTM Race Team’s Jason Thomas makes his XC1 debut this Sunday in Florida.
Additionally, longtime professional motocross/supercross star Ryan Sipes will make his official off-road debut this season aboard a Rockstar Energy Racing/WMR Off-Road backed KTM in the XC1 Pro class. But perhaps the biggest surprise of this year’s season opener will be the return of 2000 GNCC champion and Maxxis/KLIM/DirtWise KTM team owner Shane Watts, who plans to compete in a Pro division.
Factory KTM’s Grant Baylor will return to defend his XC2 Pro Lites Championship this season. The young gun made big strides in his rookie season and looks to seek a second title this season. However, Baylor has a tough line of competition, including former XC1 competitor Rory Mead, who joins Watts and Thomas on the Maxxis/KLIM/DirtWise KTM team. After two full seasons on the front row, the New Zealand native will challenge the XC2 title this season, along with Raines Riding University/Yamaha-backed Ricky Russell, who will also make the jump from the XC1 Class. KR4 Performance’s Shane Hufford Jr. will return to the XC2 Class this season after coming off two podium finishes at the end of 2013.
In the Women’s division, Factory FMF/KTM’s Kacy Martinez will make her debut as a factory-supported rider this weekend in the all-new WXC Class. Joining Martinez in the premier Women’s division is AmPro Yamaha’s Becca Sheets, N-Fab/AmPro Yamaha’s Jessica Patterson and Texas native Hannah Otto. The top Women will not only compete for the WXC championship, but they will mix it up with the fastest riders in the morning race to claim a spot on the 10 a.m. Overall podium.
Youth bike racing will take place Sunday at 8 a.m., followed by amateurs and Women at 10 a.m., while the top amateurs and pros at 1 p.m. Local racers are invited to compete at this event, as GNCC Racing offers classes for riders of all skill and experience levels. The amateur racer entry fee is $40 and riders can sign up at the track.
Adult (12+) gate admission is $20 for the full weekend and $10 for kids (6-11). Kids five and under are free. All admission includes pro pit access.
Tune into RacerTV.com on Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern to catch LIVE coverage of the Pro bike race at Round 1. For more information on GNCC Live coverage, visit www.racertv.com.
The AMSOIL Grand National Cross Country series presented by Maxxis is one America’s most prolific off-road racing series. Founded in 1975, the 13-round championship is produced exclusively by Racer Productions. Cross-country racing is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. The grueling three-hour GNCC races lead as many as 1500 riders through tracks ranging in length from eight to 12 miles. With varied terrain, including hills, woods, mud, dirt, rocks and motocross sections, GNCC events are tests of both survival and speed. The series draws talent from all over the U.S., Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. GNCC Racing is televised weekly on NBC Sports and RacerTV.com. For more information, visit www.gnccracing.com.