Mechanical problem drops Ballance to fifth
Chris Bithell ended a string of disappointing results by taking the win at the Can-Am Unadilla GNCC at Unadilla Valley Sports Center on Sept. 27. Bithell’s first win of the 2008 Grand National Cross Country season marks the first XC1 Overall win ever for the Warnert Racing Can-Am team and the Can-Am DS450.
FRE KTM’s Taylor Kiser took second ahead of Team Excell Motorsports Bryan Cook, with Rockstar Yoshimura Suzuki’s Chris Borich and Yamaha’s Bill Ballance rounding out the top five.
“This one feels even better than my first (race win last year),” says Bithell. “I knew I still had it, but we’ve just had so much bad luck. These guys, the team definitely worked hard and hopefully was can keep it up here for the last two races.”
Bithell’s win came after a hard battle with defending GNCC Champion Ballance. With rain falling on a dry race track, Bithell started the race nearly last, but he, Cook and Borich worked their way through traffic quickly, joining Kiser and Ballance at the head of the pack. Bithell gambled and pitted a lap early, and he passed Ballance for the lead when Ballance pitted a lap later. On the last lap, Ballance closed the gap on Bithell and the duo banged bumpers throughout the final few miles.
“I started running low on gas,” says Bithell. “It started sputtering, and Bill was right behind me. He bumped me from behind and that actually got me going again, and then I heard he had problems.”
Indeed Ballance’s chain came off in the last turn, cracking his engine case. With his wheels locked, Ballance and his crew pushed his machine to the finish line, and then Ballance had to push through the finish by himself. He could barely get the machine to move as he lifted it uphill, and Kiser, Cook and Borich managed to pass him while he pushed.
“The chain came off and the cases broke, so the wheels were locked up,” says Ballance. “I pushed it with everything I had. I don’t feel too bad now, and with (Adam) McGill so far back, I think we still gained some points.”
McGill, second in the points coming into the race, took the wrong route on the first lap. He was able to fight his way back to an 11th place finish in the XC1 Class, nine spots behind his KTM teammate Kiser.
“I knew my speed was good, but I was pretty down on myself after a few bad races,” says Kiser. “I want to get up here at the last two races and get one of those glass cups (first place trophy).”
Cook also suffered through two tough races before this return to the podium.
“The last two, I made a few bad decisions and didn’t look before I leaped,” says Cook. “I knew we could be back here if we just rode smart.”
Thanks to McGill’s misfortune, Ballance still enjoys a solid points lead and is in position to wrap up his record ninth-straight GNCC title at the next race, the ITP Power Line Park GNCC in St. Clairsville, Ohio, on Oct. 11.
In the XC2 Pro-Am Class, GT Thunder Yamaha’s Don Ockerman took the race victory, the Rekluse Holeshot Award, and, most importantly, the 2008 XC2 Class Championship.
“It feels good to do it,” says Ockerman. “I don’t know what I’m going to do next, though. I had a chance to run with some of the pros today, but those guys, they’re crazy.”
XCBob.com Yamaha’s Tyler Lenig finished second and The National Guard’s Mark Nottman was third.
In the two-hour ATV Morning Race, LTERacing.com Can-Am Rider Bryan Buckhannon took the ATVRiders.com Morning Race Overall Victory, and also won the Open 4×4 Class. Yamaha’s Traci Cecco finished second overall and won the Women’s class over Stefanie Verkade. Cecco made the move on the last lap by picking a line around Tom Clark Motorsports’ Angel Atwell, who got stuck in a bottleneck.
Josh Merritt won the Youth ATV Race over JD Welch and Ryan Ratliff.