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, Fla. for the inaugural running of the Moose Racing Mud Mucker GNCC. This weekend’s opener sets the stage for an epic season of racing in both the XC1 Pro and XC2 Pro Lites classes, as the champions of each division — Kailub Russell and Grant Baylor, respectively — return to defend their titles against one of the most competitive fields in the sport’s history.
Ohio native Kailub Russell enters the 2014 season with the coveted #1 plate, joined by several past GNCC champions: Paul Whibley (2012/2009), Charlie Mullins (2011), Josh Strang (2010) and the surprise return of 2000 GNCC champion Shane Watts.
The Factory FMF/KTM teammates of Russell and Mullins dominated the center of the podium in 2013, combining to capture an impressive 12 of the 13 overall wins. While Mullins was a fierce competitor all season long, it was Russell who pulled strong at the end by grabbing six of the last seven victories to finish a mere seven points ahead of Mullins 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 ten, 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 will be ready to contend the title once again this season.
The Johnny Campbell Racing (JCR) Honda team will make its much anticipated east coast debut this Sunday with #3 Chris Bach under the tent. With a privateer-backed program in 2013, Bach put forth one of the most consistent seasons of any top-ten rider and the hard work paid off. With an increased level of support, an all-new Honda ride and a solid foundation from last season, the Indiana native is expected to pick up where he left off in 2013.
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. Strang enters the 2014 season with a #4 ranking but the 2010 GNCC champion is expected to be a vital component 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 the KTM duo for an overall victory in 2013 with a big win at Round 5. 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 Husky teammate Mike Brown at Round 1. 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 2014 AMSOIL Grand National Cross Country Series kicks off March 8 and 9 in Bunnell, Fla., for the inaugural Mud Mucker GNCC. For more information on the series, visit www.gnccracing.com.
Logo courtesy AMSOIL Grand National Cross Country Series