Round four of the 2019 Amsoil Grand National Cross Country Series presented by Specialized took place in the rugged sands of South Carolina at the Camp Coker Bullet GNCC. Known as of the most diverse courses in the series with fast field sections, tight woods sections, and the defunct Camp Coker Motocross facility, the event produced one of the closest battles of the season. Here’s what we learned.
1. Russell Repeats First
Coming into the Camp Coker event, the first three rounds of the season produced three different winners. Steward Baylor came away with the opening round win, while Kailub Russell and Thad Duvall exchanged wins over the next two rounds. With three different winners, it would be difficult to predict a clear favorite for the round fourth round win. When the race began, Russell jumped out to the early lead while Duvall was left working his way through the pack in the early stages of the event.
Eventually, Duvall would latch onto Russell and the duo would swap the lead several times throughout the race but Russell managed to lead each lap. For five laps of the seven-lap race Duvall and Russell would never be separated by more than just seven seconds. In the end, after two hours and 51 minutes of racing, Russell would take the win by just 1.199 ahead of Duvall.
This win makes Russell the first repeat winner of the 2019 season and he now has won every event at Camp Coker Bullet, which was added to the series in 2016. Russell still holds the lead in the hunt for the GNCC National Championship as he sits 13 points ahead of Duvall.
2. Kelley’s Control Continues
Winning a championship certainly isn’t easy, but defending it is much harder. So far, that has not been the case for the 2018 XC2 250 Pro class champion Ben Kelley. With four rounds in the books, Kelley sits firmly in control of the XC2 class with four wins. With the number one plate on his machine for 2019, Kelley has come out swinging in 2019 and has quickly amassed a solid XC2 class points lead.
Just because Kelley has been dominating doesn’t mean the rest of the XC2 class is not full of talent. The series was once familiar with race wins that came ten-minutes or more ahead of the second-place rider, but that has changed. At the Camp Coker event, second place through 13th place were all separated by just around 10 minutes after nearly three hours of racing in XC2. Beta USA’s Mike Witkowski would end the day in second place, just 15 seconds ahead of Phoenix Racing Honda’s Austin Lee, who rounded out the podium. Liam Draper, who finished fourth, would end the day just nine seconds off the podium and less than three minutes ahead of Evan Smith, who finished fifth.
Even with this depth of talent in the XC2 class, all eyes continue to stay glued to Kelley. Four wins in four rounds is pretty impressive, but Russell, Steward and Grant Baylor, plus Josh Toth are all tied for the most consecutive XC2 class wins with five each. The grueling nature and depth of talent in GNCC Racing tends to stack the odds against a rider looking to continue a win streak, but nothing is impossible. Kelley is riding a wave of confidence in a season dreams are made of, but there’s an XC2 class full of talent looking to topple the champ.
3. Bad Day Baylor Isn’t Too Bad
While many folks were focused on the tight battle between Russell and Duvall, Steward Baylor was out there putting in a very impressive ride of his own. After digging himself out of seventh place on the opening lap, Baylor would spend the day trying to chase down the lead duo. On the podium he admitted to making too many mistakes and not having his best day, but for having a “bad day” Baylor sure looked very good!
Once he made his way into podium contention, Baylor would never be more than 26 seconds behind second place rider Duvall. This is the kind of ride that a lot of folks would dream of, but Baylor knows he has the potential to run with those guys as he beat them straight up in the deep Florida sand at round one. Stu would later post on Instagram saying that he “sounded like a crybaby” on the podium but the truth is he just wasn’t happy with his performance.
With two off-weekends before the next event, this means there’s no doubt that Baylor will be putting in the work and looking to find that little bit extra he was missing at Camp Coker. Baylor thrives on this type of motivation and when the series picks back up in Indiana, he could very well put in one of those Stu performances that leaves everyone scratching their head wondering where that raw speed came from.
4. Enter Sandman
A fan favorite in the GNCC series is the FMF XC3 125 Pro-Am class. Who doesn’t love the sound of a flock of 125s being flogged around a grueling off-road course? Florida’s Jesse Ansley claimed last year’s XC3 class championship and kicked off the 2019 season with the win in his home state. Mechanical issues at round two has dropped Ansley out of the points lead as Beta-mounted Cody Barnes claimed two wins in a row and took over the class points leading heading into Camp Coker.
As previously mentioned, the Camp Coker event is a bit on the sandy side and actually serves as the series’ only other sand race outside of Florida. Naturally, Ansley becomes the clear favorite when the terrain becomes sandy but Barnes would control the lead for the majority of the race. Lap after lap it looked as if Barnes was the one to beat, but in the final two laps of the race, Ansley would put on a charge to take the lead and hold it until the end for his second win of the season.
With these two young guns battling at the front of the pack, the excitement level of the FMF XC3 125 Pro-Am class championship is reaching an all-time high. Both of these riders are extremely motivated to claim the championship, and with four rounds now in the books, it looks as if the chase for that title is shaping up to be one of the fiercest of the 2019 season.