River Ranch, Fla. (March 12, 2013) – Factory FMF/KTM’s Charlie Mullins topped a stacked field of riders at the 2013 AMSOIL Grand National Cross Country season opener in River Ranch, Florida. The win wasn’t exactly handed to the 2011 GNCC champion, though, as teammate Kailub Russell and former XC1 champ Josh Strang and Paul Whibley contested Mullins throughout the full three-hour battle, presenting a lethal combination of some of the roughest and highest speed terrain on the 13-race circuit. XC2 Pro Lites winner Andrew DeLong made waves from the second row, finishing fifth overall in front of an exciting battle for second between reigning XC2 champ Jason Thomas and Pro Motocross star Zach Osborne.
The Moose Racing Westgate River Ranch GNCC historically kicks off the GNCC season in a big way, taking place just a couple hours south of the infamous Daytona Bike week festivities. But perhaps more importantly is the fact that the season opener also serves as an industry hub for all types of off-road racing to meet up for a spectacular weekend of cross-country racing, scouting and networking.
Current XC1 champion Paul Whibley didn’t miss a beat from 2012 as he once again grabbed the first holeshot of the new season aboard his AmPro Yamaha machine, closely battling 2010 champ Josh Strang in the process. Although Strang didn’t quite get the holeshot, the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC rider commanded the early lead over Factory Husaberg’s Mike Lafferty, Whibley and the rest of the pack. However, it didn’t take long for Whibley to put his number one plate out front where he diced it out with Lafferty and Mullins on the opening lap. Mullins acquired the lead by Lap 2 after Whibley was forced to stop and pull a stick out of his rear wheel, also allowing Russell, Strang and KR4 Arrive-N-Ride/B.R.E/Carolina KTM’s Chris Bach to get past too. Whibley then entered a four-way battle for the early spots up front. Shenandoah Honda/USWE-Sports.com’s Thad DuVall ran a steady pace just behind the front-runners, where he maintained a top five spot all afternoon.
Mullins only got stronger as the race wore on and his teammate Russell stuck close by as the two came into the VP Racing Fuels Pro Row side-by-side for their first pit stop of the afternoon. Whibley was able to catch Mullins and Russell until he eventually fell back after stopping to fuel the next lap around.
“I lost touch with Charlie, Kailub [Russell] and the other guys when I stopped for gas and I sort of ended up riding by myself after that,” said Whibley. “That’s when it’s hard to find the right push and make up time on those guys.”
Making his return to the GNCC series after nearly an entire season away, Australia’s Josh Strang finally got into his groove midway through the race. Strang eventually passed Whibley for a podium position and was able to secure a third place finish at the season opener.
“It was good to get in front and ride steady on the first lap, especially since it’s my first race back in seven months,” Strang said. “I was a little rusty but it was good to be up there with those guys. I put in a lot of hard work in the offseason and I couldn’t be more thankful for Rocky Mountain ATV/MC kicking in to help me race this season.”
Mullins and Russell kept the battle for the lead very tight all afternoon, coming through the finish only seven seconds apart for the top two podium positions.
“I am happy to get second,” Russell said. “I haven’t been able to finish Florida the last two years so I’m starting off with 25 points that I’ve never had before so it’s a good day.”
Mullins grabbed the first overall win of the season, continuing off his Ironman GNCC victory in October of 2012, the last time Mullins has raced a GNCC event and his only win last season.
“It’s been a great off-season with my little boy as well as some good practice time,” said Mullins. “I really want to win this year and I’ve been working really hard with my conditioning and my speed to really put everything together for a championship chase this season.”
DuVall rode a consistent three hours to capture fifth for the day after bouncing back from a hard crash, while Bach maintained sixth place despite a mid-race bobble that left him shaken up for the second half of the day. Factory Husaberg’s Nick Fahringer took home seventh place, with Ricky Russell in eighth and Florida’s Garrett Edmisten and Litz Racing/Ride Center USA Takeshi Koikeda rounded out the top ten in XC1.
It was F.A.R Husqvarna’s Andrew DeLong who commanded the early points lead in the XC2 Pro Lites division, despite getting stuck in a first corner pile up that caused him to play catch up on the opening lap. DirtWise Schools/KTM-Parts.com/Maxxis rider Jason Thomas grabbed a second place start behind GEICO Honda’s Pro Motocross specialist, Zach Osborne -who got off to the early lead in the XC2 division. Osborne led the first half of the race but DeLong’s cross-country experience kicked in from there as the Pennsylvania native took over the lead on Lap 4. DeLong never looked back, grabbing the first win of the season and putting himself into a desirable position heading into Round 2 this weekend.
Heading into the final lap of racing, Osborne held the upper hand on Thomas in positioning but the reigning champ played it smart in allowing Osborne to exhaust himself before reeling in the second place spot on the final lap. After a long and hard-fought battle, Thomas edged Osborne for the runner-up position at River Ranch.
Obermeyer Yamaha/Raines Riding University/Offroadviking.com’s Jed Haines finished fourth for the day, while the XC2 rookies of KTM’s Grant Baylor and Morgantown Powersports’ Layne Michael finished fifth and sixth respectively in their first-ever Pro competition in Florida.
The 2013 AMSOIL Grand National Cross Country Series continues this weekend, March 16 and 17 with the Maxxis General GNCC in Washington, Ga. For more information on the series, visit www.gnccracing.com.
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