It’s a long running tradition that the Florida and Georgia rounds of the GNCC Racing season be held on back-to-back weekends, compared to the typical GNCC schedule that sees events at least two weeks apart. The quick turnaround adds another element to the events. Here’s a few things we learned between these two races.
These Events Are Totally Different
Naturally, when you go off-road racing in Florida the course is inundated with miles of sand whoops that just get rougher as the race wears on. This year’s Wild Boar GNCC in Florida saw exactly that, and it was also the driest this property had ever been for this event. This made that sand more loose and powdery which made it even rougher by the end of the weekend! Additionally, it was hot in Florida with temperatures reaching the mid-80s.
The following weekend the series made the transition to the Georgia clay for The General GNCC which was met with on and off rain showers in the days leading up to the race, plus bitter cold temperatures on Sunday morning dropping into the low 20s! While it did finally make it to the upper 50s by the time the 1PM Pro bike race rolled around, there were still areas of the course that were muddy and slick, a far cry from the dry sand in Florida.
With these events coming just a week apart, the recovery time from one three-hour race to another is no easy task. However, the current crop of GNCC racers should consider themselves lucky. A decade ago that the Florida event raced on Tuesday in conjunction with Daytona Bike Week, with a short turnaround to the Georgia clay just five days later on Sunday. At least now the riders have seven days between events.
|1||Ben Kelley||02:55:20.690||Harwinton, CT||KTM|
|3||Jordan Ashburn||02:59:56.639||Cookeville, TN||Husqvarna|
|4||Craig Delong||03:05:25.476||Morgantown, PA||Husqvarna|
|5||Michael Witkowski||03:05:32.818||North Liberty, IN||Yamaha|
Ben Kelley Is An Animal
Defending GNCC champion Ben Kelley spent a lot of time training during the off-season, and that is paying off. While a number of his top challengers are sidelined with injuries, Kelley still just looks to be riding a tick better than he did in 2021. He has this certain speed and style that just seems to be a little more refined than he’s had in the past, so even if guys like Steward Baylor, Thad Duvall and Josh Strang were currently in the mix as well, they very well could have their work cut out for them trying to topple Kelley.
Regardless of the “what ifs”, Ben Kelley has been on fire in 2022 as he took the win in Florida and then backed that up with another win in Georgia, making him three for three so far this season. Kelley doesn’t always just lead from wire to wire, and never has done that, so it’s not uncommon to see other guys run up front early but Kelley always seems to pick his way to the front in the latter portions of the race.
While the series is only three rounds deep, the questions are already beginning to circulate; could Ben Kelley make it a perfect season? No rider has ever completed a perfect season in GNCC history, and the closest anyone has ever come was Walker Fowler on the ATV side when he won 12 of 13 rounds in 2017. Kelley claimed his second XC2 class title in 2019 by winning 10 consecutive rounds but after wrapping up the championship he moved up to the XC1 class and won the overall at two of the final three rounds. It’s not impossible, but with so many elements at play in a single GNCC event, it’s no easy task.
|1||Ben Kelley||02:42:17.434||Harwinton, CT||KTM|
|2||Josh Toth||02:43:27.219||Winstead, CT||KTM|
|3||Craig Delong||02:43:35.640||Morgantown, PA||Husqvarna|
|4||Michael Witkowski||02:45:24.278||North Liberty, IN||Yamaha|
Time For Others to Shine
With guys like Steward Baylor, Thad Duvall, and Layne Michael out with injury, it really gave an opportunity for others to step up and make a splash at the front of the pack. In Florida, visiting World Enduro Champion Josep Garcia put together an incredibly impressive ride to end the day in second place. The original plan was for Garcia to also race in Georgia before heading back to Spain to prepare for the World Enduro season but during that Florida event Garcia actually broke his hand (and still finished second place!) so he skipped the Georgia round and headed home early. After that impressive performance, could we see Garcia come give the GNCC series a full-time attempt in the future?
Also impressive in these events was Jordan Ashburn who even led a portion of the Florida round. Jordan is a GNCC veteran at this point and has landed a number of podiums and finished the season inside the top three multiple times, but an overall win has eluded him. Despite some slight issues in Georgia, he still finished inside the top five of the XC1 class and sixth overall.
Josh Toth kicked off the season with a fourth at round one and was running as high as fourth place in Florida before getting sick mid-race. The heat got to him, and he would end up bowing out of the race with two to go. He would quickly rebound to finish a season and career-tying best second place in Georgia, even leading the opening laps along the way. Craig Delong also put together his best ride of the season in Georgia to land his first-ever XC1 class podium. The XC1 class rookie would come from as far back as seventh place on the opening lap to eventually end the day in third.
Battles in XC2
When defending XC2 class champion Johnny Girroir went down at round one, it would leave the door open for new challengers looking to take the XC2 class championship. Thus far nobody has quite been able to best Yamaha's Mike Witkowski, who won all three rounds so far. Of course, this XC2 class is historically full of close racing and things can quickly change in one single race, so Witkowski can’t get too comfortable.
Lyndon Snodgrass struggled slightly in Florida and ended the day in fifth before rebounding to a second-place finish in Georgia, just over a second off of Witkowski for the win. Snodgrass is an up-and-coming star for the Monster Energy Babbitt's Kawasaki Team Green squad. Ryder Lafferty went through a similar scenario as he actually had a terrible Florida race, only making four of the six laps and finishing 18th in the XC2 class. Lafferty would also rebound in Georgia to claim his second podium of the season in third place.
So, if these two guys missed the podium in Florida, who was there other than Witkowski? Well, Cody Barnes put together a great ride in the Florida sand to finish the day in second but actually suffered a mechanical issue in Georgia and ended up 15th. Jack Edmondson landed on the podium in Florida with a third place but struggled in Georgia and was only able to finish 14th. This XC2 class is a bit all over the place which means it could be one of the most exciting championship hunts to watch unfold, especially if some of these guys are able to wrestle race wins away from Witkowski.