Paul Whibley Wins Loretta Lynn’s Day 1
Championship will come down to final race for Mullins
From GNCCRacing.com & Shan Moore
Day one of this weekend’s first-ever Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series double-header provided nothing short of epic racing as over five hundred bike racers showed up at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. for the season finale Parts Unlimited Loretta Lynn’s GNCC. What started out looking like a relatively easy runaway win for points leader Charlie Mullins, turned into an electrifying nail-biter in the end.
Mullins came into Friday’s round leading the point standings over a field of the best off-road racers in the world, including Australia sensation and defending champion Josh Strang and 2009 GNCC Champion Paul Whibley of New Zealand. Not one to play it safe, however, Mullins grabbed the lead on the opening lap and started to pull away from the competition. But the race – and the title chase – took an unexpected turn when Mullins’ bike sputtered to a stop on lap five after suffering an engine failure. AmPro Yamaha’s Paul Whibley assumed the lead at that point with Mullins’ FMF/KTM teammate Cory Buttrick in second, as Mullins worked frantically to restart his bike.
In the meantime, FMF Makita Suzuki’s Josh Strang had managed to work his way into the battle for the lead after finding himself at the rear of the pack when he collided with Whibley in the first turn. Both Whibley and Strang turned in epic rides to move through traffic during the first few laps, with Whibley having the benefit of getting away before Strang. Whibs was hitting one of the deep and fast-running creek crossings wide open in order to make up time and the strategy paid off as the Kiwi found himself in the right place at the right time when Mullins dropped out.
At the end of three hours of intense racing, Whibley took the checkered flag with only an 11 second gap over Buttrick, who claimed his best finish of the year with the runner-up position. Meanwhile, third went to Strang, who kept his title hopes alive with the finish.
“I can’t control what anybody else does so I just have to go out there and win races,” said Whibley. “Late in the race, I saw Mullins’ bike laying over beside the track so I knew I had the lead at that point. It was tough to make up time in the woods so I was hitting the creeks as hard as I could to try and get it done.”
After swapping out his engine for a fresh one, Mullins was able to make the final lap and was credited with 14th position, which leaves the North Carolina rider with an even smaller advantage over Whibley in the standings heading into Sunday’s finale. If Mullins is able to secure the championship after Sunday’s race, he will be the first American to hold a GNCC XC1 title since Rodney Smith in 2004.
Kailub Russell finished a strong fourth after the FMF KTM rider battled closely with Strang and Buttrick throughout most of the three-hour race. Russell was set to take another podium finish until the pro class rookie crashed on the final lap of the race. Meanwhile, FMF KTM’s Russell Bobbitt came out on top of a fierce battle with WMR Racing/Clockwork/Planet Fitness KTM rider Nate Kanney to finish fifth.
JG Off-road/GEICO Powersports Honda’s Scotty Watkins was seventh, beating out Beta rider Jesse Robinson and KTM rider Kenny Gilbert.
1. Paul Whibley (Yam)
2. Cory Buttrick (KTM)
3. Josh Strang (Suz)
4. Kailub Russell (KTM)
5. Russell Bobbitt (KTM)
6. Nate Kanney (KTM)
7. Scotty Watkins (Hon)
8. Jesse Robinson (Bet)
9. Kenny Gilbert (KTM)
10. Toby Price (KTM)
From KTM– Factory FMF/KTM rider Cory Buttrick earned an impressive 2nd place finish in his most inspiring race this season at day one of the Loretta Lynn’s double-header on his new 2012 KTM 450 XC-W. His teammate and current XC1 GNCC point’s leader, Charlie Mullins, suffered a heartbreaking day after leading the majority of the race to encounter a bike problem on the final lap placing him in 14th overall moving the championship decision to the final race day.
Buttrick and Mullins were joined on the starting line by their teammates, 2-time GNCC XC2 Lites Champion, Kailub Russell and newly crowned AMA National Enduro Champion, Russell Bobbitt. All four riders got off to a great start sitting in the lead pack. Within the first few miles, Mullins proved why he leads this series, as he quickly moved into the lead ahead of holeshot winner Jedediah Haines. Buttrick matched the pace of his teammate and took over 2nd position.
The story would remain the same out front as the two riders continued to pull away from the pack. By the fourth lap Mullins had stretched his lead to over one minute and thirty seconds on the rest of the field. Mullins held a 38 point lead heading into this race and knew he only had to remain in front of Josh Strang in order to clinch the championship title. It was on the next lap that the most unfortunate situation occurred. Mullins bike encountered a mechanical problem and he had to push it back to the pits. As Mullins watched his team swap motors, Buttrick pitted for gas allowing Russell, Paul Whibley and Strang to pass.
A lap later, Whibley held the lead while Buttrick moved back into 2nd after Russell suffered a crash and Strang stopped for gas. Whibley went on to take the win while Buttrick held on to 2nd place earning his best finish this season. Strang secured the final podium spot while Russell recovered from his last lap crash to take 4th and Bobbitt rounded out the top five.
“It feels great to get back on the podium. I have struggled this year with an early season illness and a concussion and it is a great feeling to be in strong enough physical condition to run at the front of the pack. My new 450 is running awesome and I can’t wait to try and return to the podium in Sunday’s race,” commented Buttrick.
While the top five were busy crossing the finish line, Mullins team had just finished replacing his engine and he went out for the final lap to try and salvage any possible points. Mullins crossed the finish line in 14th earning 7 points for the day’s race.