Bell Crowned Champ But Duvall, Russell 1-2 At Big 6 Finale

A preview of 2018?

Kailub Russell
When Kailub Russell started having brake problems late in the race due to a suspected rock getting stuck between the brake pedal and frame, Thad Duvall seized the opportunity to pass and led the final two laps to win his first-ever Big 6 GP.Mark Kariya

Since Ox Motorsports Honda’s Zach Bell needed simply to finish the eighth and final round of the AMA District 37/Maxxis Big 6 Grand Prix Series in order to win the championship in its featured AMA Big 6 West Coast Grand Prix (WCGP) Series, the title chase lacked a bit in drama.

Instead, what drew huge interest in the Vikings Motorcycle Club’s Vikings Grand Prix at the Crazy Horse Campgrounds in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, was the presence of four visitors from the East Coast, all of whom were making their West Coast racing debuts. All of the series regulars were curious to see how AmsOil GNCC Racing regulars Thad Duvall, Ben Kelley, Kailub Russell, and Josh Toth would fare on the Left Coast.

Although a new venue on the Big 6 calendar, many of the regulars have raced Havasu before due to it being a regular stop on the Rocky Mountain ATV-MC World Off-Road Championship Series (WORCS) tour, and it’s noted for being both extremely rough and the shortest course of the series.

Kailub Russell
Russell led most of the race while keeping an eye on regular GNCC rival Duvall, those two making a distinct impression on the West Coast crowd. The FMF KTM star ultimately finished second and will contest both GNCCs and Big 6 GPs next year so he’ll collect quite a few frequent-flier miles and likely shake things up out west.Mark Kariya

Neither fact changed for the Big 6 version.

Of the four GNCC guys, Russell of the FMF KTM Factory Off-road Racing Team is the only one who’d planned on this being the first step in a new direction for his career as he’ll contest both the GNCCs and Big 6 GPs in 2018.

For his FMF KTM teammates, it happened to work into their schedule as they were in Southern California anyway for the team photo shoot followed by a lot of testing. As for Duvall, he explained, “I came out last weekend for the Kurt Caselli ride and didn’t have anything going on at home, so I decided to hang out and do some training and come out and race this Big 6 race.”

Being half as long as a three-hour GNCC they’re used to, the Vikings GP would feel like more of a sprint and they proved up to the task—at least Russell and Duvall did as they got good starts, with new Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Off-road Team member Dalton Shirey leading most of the first few laps, Bell and Perry Concepts Honda’s Travis Damon also in the lead group.

“I had a pretty good start and I got right into the lead and I tightened up, and Dalton Shirey got around us,” Russell said. “He was going really fast and he probably got really tight; he pulled over and let me by, and I was in the lead, just riding smooth, trying not to make any mistakes because it was brutal with the lappers and just the track in general. This is my first race on a 450 in a long time.”

Indeed, both he and Duvall were on 450s (Duvall, of course, on an FX 450) instead of the 350s they normally utilize back east.

Zach Bell
Although Zach Bell got a great start and was up front early, he settled into a safe pace to guarantee a finish (placing fifth Pro and sixth overall), thus ensuring he’d claim the championship.Mark Kariya

But eventually, the two GNCC stars worked into the lead with Russell leading and Duvall trying his best to close the gap, Russell related, “Thad would close on me a little there; I wasn’t gapping him—we were matching each other’s pace the whole race, then I opened up a little bit of a lead after we gassed. Then I think I got a rock in my brake pedal and the brakes were locking up just a tad.”

That affected his pace and gave Duvall the opportunity he needed to catch and pass the five-time GNCC champ, going on to win his first-ever West Coast race by 31 seconds in a scene right out of a GNCC, though this took place in the Arizona desert.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Duvall confessed. “We did some testing on Tuesday out in similar conditions to this so I got a good setup and I think it paid off today, for sure. I had a smile on my face the whole time. It was just something different and it was awesome!”

Ben Kelley
Despite falling in the first turn and getting up last, GNCC XC-2 competitor Ben Kelley stormed through the pack, passing all of the other guys in his WCGP Pro II class and coming in an astounding fourth overall.Mark Kariya

Satisfied with where he stands going into next year, Russell noted, “I wasn’t sure [where I’d stand speed-wise compared to the Big 6 regulars] with this track. I knew Thad would be good—he’s a good sand rider, a good rider in general. I thought Zach would be—I don’t want to say anything bad, but I thought he’d be one of the guys to beat because I’ve seen him ride sand before, but he probably played it safe. He had the championship he’s thinking about.”

After crashing on the first lap and coming from far back to a strong third, 49 seconds behind Russell, defending series champ Eric Yorba of the FMF/Maxxis/RPM Racing KTM team said, “These guys are amazing riders and I knew if there was one Big 6 where they being from the East Coast wouldn’t make that much of a difference, it would be this race. Say we go to 29 Palms or something like that—then they might be a little out of their element. But here, I knew they were going to be tough, for sure, and they’d be tough to beat.”

Talon Hawkins
It was definitely a weekend for Big 6 visitors as Talon Hawkins ran away with both Mini Intermediate and Super Mini Advanced at the race on the shores of Lake Havasu.Mark Kariya

As if to emphasize that, consider that Trail Jesters KTM’s Kelley dumped his 250 XC-F going into the first turn. By the time he got going again, he was, of course, last, but he spent the entire 90 minutes passing people to win the WCGP Pro II class and finish an astounding fourth overall.

“I was pretty surprised how far up I caught,” he admitted after finishing 58 seconds behind Yorba.

After his early run with the leaders, Damon came in fifth overall followed by Bell, the new Big 6 champ asserting, “Today was just to get it across the finish line. Obviously, I wanted to race with these guys, but the bigger picture was to finish the season strong [and seal the championship]. I got myself into a good position and I just let those guys go at it.”

Like the GNCC guys, Eythor Reynisson also happened to be in Southern California training for next year’s European MX championships with the JCR Honda crew and took the opportunity to join the fun at Havasu, finishing seventh. FMF KTM’s Toth made it a GNCC 1-2 in WCGP Pro II, claiming eighth overall, followed by Rocky Mountain ATV-MC/Precision Concepts Kawasaki’s Justin Seeds with Purvines DA8 Racing Yamaha rider Nick Burson rounding out the top 10 overall.

If this race was any indication, things will be very interesting when the 2018 season starts at the Adelanto Grand Prix next month.