Ballance and Bithell second and third
Union, SC – The battle for the 2007 Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series ATV Title is heating up, as East Coast ATV Honda's Chris Borich grabbed his second-straight with a strong run at the Big Buck GNCC. Borich is now tied for the series points lead with seven-time and defending GNCC Champion Bill Ballance. Factory Yamaha's Ballance was strong again, but he didn't have an answer for Borich this time, settling for second ahead of LTERacing.com's Chris Bithell.
"Yeah I think I'm going pretty good," said Borich, flashing a smile and showing some confidence. "It was pretty dusty out there. I had a good line and got around Bill, and I knew as long as I kept some lappers between me and him, he wouldn't be able to go and catch me. I feel like we can win this championship, we'll just keep looking things over and training hard."
Ballance got hung up on the start when he tried to make a pass on ITP Holeshot Award Winner Chris Jenks. Borich snuck past them, but then pulled over and let Ballance by when he elected not to jump the Big Buck creek jump. "I didn't want to jump it on the first lap, so I let Bill go around so I could follow him over," said Borich. "It was nothing."
A lap later he found a good line to pass Ballance and get the lead back, and then used the dust—and a blistering fast pace—to pull away.
Ballance may be the smartest rider on the tour, but he couldn't figure out a way to get Borich back at the Big Buck. "There was a line I had seen when we checked the track out, but I missed it and Chris took it, and he went right around me," said Ballance. "There was a cut away section of woods, more of an open field with some stumps, and it was really dusty in there. I knew if he was ahead of me by the time we got there, I would be in some trouble because it was so dusty in that section. I lost a lot of time there. On the last lap we put in a charge, but I knew if I didn't get close or pass him by the time we got to that cut away section, I wouldn't be able to get him. Chris rode awesome today."
Third-placed Bithell rode awesome, too. He once again showed the speed needed to compete with Borich and Ballance, and he's working on the endurance. "It's always nice to be up here on the podium, but I really want to get up there with these guys and get in the middle of it," said Bithell. "I trained really hard between the North Carolina race and this one. I felt a lot better, I even got a glimpse of Ballance at one point, but he got away from me. I didn't get a good start, and I think that might have worn me down a bit, having to push so hard early."
Bithell used a smart pit strategy to make moves. He was in fourth behind fellow sophomore pro Adam McGill, but when McGill and the majority of the pack pitted on lap two, Bithell kept on riding and moved into third. "I couldn't get around McGill on the course, but I knew if I could get around him in the pits I could pull away," said Bithell. "My pit crew does a great job." Bithell, 18, has a pit crew led by his mother.
McGill hung on for fourth, his best finish of the season. The West Virginia rider, like many racers from the northern states, is getting stronger as the weather gets better close to home, which allows for more practice time.
"Yeah, I've just been lifting hard and working on my guns," joked the fun-loving McGill before the race. "I tried to put my shirt on this morning and it wouldn't even fit over my arms."
Veteran Matt Smiley is another northerner coming around. After a few bad years, the former GNCC points leader, race winner and title contender is beginning to look like his old self on his East Coast ATV/Elka/Maxxis Honda. He still slowed just a bit down the stretch, but held on for his first top five finish since 2005. Rookie XC1 Pro rider Taylor Kiser put in another good run to finish sixth, with DeRisi Racing/Pirelli rider Bryan Cook in seventh. Brandon Sommers took his GT Thunder Yamaha to eighth overall and first in the XC2 Pro Am class—he's undefeated in that class after four rounds. How many can he win? "I'd like to win all of them," said Sommers with a laugh. The Ohio rider is billed as one of the most promising young racers in the game. "I got a good start, that helps, and just kept on pushing. If you're just riding by yourself, you can lose focus, so I try to push for the overall. I'd like to get top ten, I don't think top five every week is realistic for me right now."
Ryan Lane finished second behind Sommers for the fourth time this season. "You can call me the comeback guy, because I got another horrible start," said Lane, who routinely rounds the first turn in the back of the pack. Dave Crane finished third in the class for his first career podium.
Ninth overall went to Duane Johnson, with Craig Reed in tenth. Popular Monster/Kawasaki/National Guard rider William Yokley ended up eleventh after another bad start on his KFX450. Yamaha's Michael Houston, the winner of last year's Big Buck race, was 12th.
Chris Jenks scored the ITP Holeshot Award on his Houser/GT Thunder machine, but he ran into yet more bad luck when he broke a spindle, knocking him out of the race. Yamaha's Brandon Ballance, still suffering from lower-back problems, was unable to finish as well.
As for the Can-Am GNCC Title Chase, Ballance and Borich are still battling hard, as they each have two firsts and two seconds on the year. "If we did 100 laps, I bet we would still be close by the finish line," said Ballance. "Chris is riding awesome and I know he wants it as bad as I do. It's a long season and it will come down to who makes the least mistakes."
In the morning race at 10 a.m., Yamaha's Traci Cecco kept her streak alive with her fourth overall win of the season. He gap is shrinking, though, as Four-Stroke Tech's Michael Benson almost ran her down, riding in the U2 class on his Kawasaki KFX700. Cecco's run was smooth, but she knows the Utility riders are coming. "I had the lead, then I went up a hill, and Angel (Atwell) had a great line and go around me," said Cecco. "I had to fight to get her back. With the other guys coming up in the other class, you have no idea how close they are to you, so you just need to keep pushing it."
Benson took third with fellow U2 (Utility Unlimited) racer Marcus Gonzalez in third overall. Top U2 contender Brock Parker held an early lead on his Can-Am Renegade 800, but he crashed and broke his arm, which should knock him from title contention.
Scott Kilby took his Can-Am Outlander 800 to the Open 4x4 class win, with his Can-Am teammates Michael Swift (4x4 Limited) and Cliff Beasley (4x4 Lites) taking the wins in their classes.
The Can-Am GNCC Series continues in two weeks with the Acerbis Loretta Lynn's GNCC in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. For more information, check out www.gnccracing.com.