RACE REPORT: Ian Blythe Wins 2016 WHS Coalinga, Round 2

Ian Blythe the best at Round 2 of the Kenda/SRT West Hare Scramble Championship in Coalinga, California.

A common statement from anyone who’s ridden the Dakar Rally goes something like this: “I don’t want to SEE another dirt bike!” Riding over 5000 miles in two weeks does that to even the most ardent dirt rider, and Ian Blythe is no exception.

“After Dakar I didn’t even want to look at a dirt bike so I didn’t ride much!” he admitted. Of course, the snow around his area of Colorado had something to do with that, too.

“I wouldn’t want to [race a week after finishing Dakar like Ricky Brabec did]! I mean, you could do it—you’re recovered in a week—but it wouldn’t be a lot of fun, I don’t think. You recover in three or four days; [that’s when] I felt normal again.

“But I didn’t want to look at my dirt bike for a couple of weeks! I’m glad there was kind of a gap [between Dakar and this weekend]; I didn’t envy Ricky Brabec going to the National hare & hound [opener a week after finishing Dakar].”

Like Brabec, however, Blythe won his first race back. In his case it was round two of the Kenda/SRT AMA West Hare Scrambles Championship Series, the Picacho Creek Challenge run by the Salinas Ramblers Motorcycle Club at its property outside of Coalinga, California.

Ian Blythe wins WHS Coalinga 2016
Since he’d ridden it only a few times since last year when he employed it to win the opening round, Ian Blythe broke out his trusty 2015 250 SX and was first to the finish at the Picacho Creek Challenge, though we’ll have to wait until the AMA rules on a protest filed against him before the results are official.Photo by Mark Kariya

Unfortunately, official results are on hold pending an AMA ruling on a protest filed against Blythe for allegedly pitting outside the designated pit area, which would theoretically give him an advantage due to not having to ride down pit lane at the mandated 5 MPH limit.

So, until that’s decided, the results will remain in limbo, but it doesn’t take away the action that took place during the nearly three hours of racing in the hilly, dusty and often technical trails the club laid out.

Purvines Racing Beta’s Nick Burson spent the most time battling with Blythe for the lead, the desert specialist opting for Beta’s 300 RR two-stroke instead of the 430 or 480 four-strokes he and teammate Axel Pearson campaigned last year.

Nick Burson racing Round 2 WHS 2016
Switching to the more nimble two-stroke 300 RR made sense for Nick Burson (and teammate Axel Pearson). He got a great start, passed Blythe before the end of the first lap then led until he had to pit for fresh goggles. After forfeiting the lead, he couldn’t reel Blythe back in and had to settle for second, unofficially. However, if the AMA rules in favor of the protest lodged against Blythe, Burson becomes the winner.Photo by Mark Kariya

The choice seemed to suit Burson well as he parlayed a good start into a great ride until he had to pit: “I smoked my goggles with sweat and I needed to come in for goggles. He passed me while I was in [the pits].”

That ended up being the difference Blythe needed to build a race-winning gap over Burson, though it’s still unofficial until the AMA makes its decision.

SRT KTM’s Cory Graffunder, the defending race and series champ, came out on top of a duel with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Off-road Team’s Jacob Argubright to seal third, a relief for the number-one plate holder who DNFed round one when his bike quit in the mudfest after leading much of that race.

“I keep reminding myself that last year I wrapped up the championship a round early so this year, maybe it’s just the first round I don’t [count] instead of the last round,” Graffunder observed.

Cory Graffunder racing at Round 2 WHS 2016
Cory Graffunder will be out for revenge this season. After leading much of muddy round one, he DNFed when his bike broke. He ended up third at Picacho Creek after coming out on top of a battle with Jacob Argubright who was satisfied with fourth.Photo by Mark Kariya

Argubright also was satisfied to be near the front the entire time despite the supposed disadvantage of being the only one of the top five on a four-stroke. The 2014 series champ said, “I was a little slow in the tighter stuff, for sure, but I’ve got the bike pretty dialed where it doesn’t bother me.”

Maxxis/FMF/RPM Racing KTM rider Travis Coy raced a 300 XC for the first time in quite a while and earned fifth, followed by his brother, Justin Bonita, Joey Fiasconaro (last year’s FMF Pro 250 champ who must now ride in the regular Pro division), Kevin Rookstool, Pearson and semi-retired office-bound Ryan Powell.

Yamaha-mounted Dillon Sheppard put on a last-lap charge to nab the FMF Pro 250 victory after dispatching younger competitors Max Parker, the eventual runner-up, and early class leader Dante Oliveira. They finished 16th, 17th and 18th, with just four seconds separating the three at the checkered flag.

Dillon Sheppard racing Round 2 of the WHS 2016
A last-lap pass got Dillon Sheppard the FMF Pro 250 win by one second over Max Parker while third-place Dante Oliveira shadowed them just three seconds farther back.Photo by Mark Kariya
Mateo Oliveira racing Round 2 of the WHS 2016
Just seventh on the first lap, Mateo Oliveira worked to the front on the second time around and built a comfortable lead to overall the combined Big Wheel/AA/Mini/Girls race.Photo by Mark Kariya