Blackshear, GA (February 10-11, 2018) – While most of the east coast off-road teams were training in Florida the weeks leading up to the opening round of the Kenda Full Gas Sprint Enduro Series, Ryan Sipes was at home with his wife Holly, who was expecting the couple’s third child. Lucky for Ryan (and bad for the competition), Holly gave birth on Tuesday, just three days before the Georgia race, giving the Rockstar/Leatt/Maxxis Husqvarna rider a “weekend pass” to attend the race.
Having ridden very little during the weeks leading up to the Georgia race, the former Supercross star and 2016 ISDE individual overall champion still managed to come out on top of a fierce battle with defending series champ Steward Baylor to claim the overall victory. It was a battle that shifted momentum several times during the weekend, however after two days of racing and 12 special tests, Sipes topped Baylor by just under 21 seconds to claim the first win of the new season.
“I had no idea what to execpt coming in here,” said Sipes. “Since my wife was expecting any time, I didn’t get to ride the last few weeks so I didn’t know if I would come in here and get smoked or win the thing.”
Sipes got off to a good start by winning the first two tests on Saturday – a Cross test and an Enduro test. He then proceeded to win all five of the remaining Cross tests, however it was in the Enduro test where Sipes sealed the deal.
“At the end of Day One, Stew was gaining on me, and he was obviously doing it in the Enduro test,” said Sipes. “So I walked that test a total of four times trying to figure out where he was gaining time on me and I think that made the difference. Stew’s lines are really good and I could see, ‘oh, yeah, he’s breaking early and turning here,’ where I was taking the main line a little too much. So, yeah, I think all the walking really helped me.”
Sipes was able to pull off the win each day in addition to the overall victory, which puts the Kentucky rider in good position heading into the rest of the season. But Baylor gave Sipes a run for his money, winning a total of four tests, all of which were Enduro tests. However, the Tely Racing KTM-backed South Carolina rider kept Sipes honest in the Cross tests en route to the runner-up slot.
“This weekend was encouraging for me,” said Baylor. “I’m usually down a lot further from Ryan in the Cross tests. I’m normally finishing fourth or fifth in those and then having to make up the difference in the Enduro tests. But this weekend I felt I was a lot closer to Ryan in the Cross tests, which is a result of all the moto time I put in during the off-season.”
Baylor came into the weekend carrying a lot of momentum after winning a national enduro the weekend before, and is not at all to be counted out of the championship just yet.
After winning the second Enduro test on Saturday, Josh Strang pressured Sipes and Baylor during the early going. However, the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory rider struggled to find a comfortable set-up and finished the weekend in third overall, just 23 seconds off of Baylor’s pace. Strang spent the rest of the weekend blocking a challenge from Beta USA’s Jordan Ashburn, and wound up topping the Tennessee rider by 16 seconds at the finish.
“I think my speed was good but I wasn’t comfortable,” said Strang. “The track got a lot rougher than I expected and from start to finish we were making changes to the bike, just trying to find the setup. I think the last four tests on Sunday really showed that we found it and I was a lot more comfortable in those tests.
“I struggled at first to find that sprint speed right out of the gate. I think I was dragging the rear brake too much, and that’s just me trying to get back up to that speed, knowing that I can do it. I was down shifting too much, but in the last couple of tests I decided to leave it in a taller gear and just lug it and my times picked up.”
Ashburn, who was a consistent podium finisher in 2017, spent the weekend adjusting to the sand.
“We don’t have a lot of sand where I live, so we ended up learning a lot about our bike set-up for sandy conditions,” said Ashburn. “We were close all weekend, just a second here and there. Me and Strang battled both days and early on Sunday I narrowed it down to three or four seconds off his overall time. But then I think he picked up the pace and I ended missing the podium by about 16 seconds. Overall, I’m happy to come away with a fourth, but I’m looking to get back on the podium.”
SRT Racing Husqvarna’s Evan Smith edged Tely Racing KTM’s Grant Baylor by a mere four seconds to round out the top five. Smith spent the winter adjusting to a change of brands – going from KTM to Husqvarna, while Grant spent the winter recovering from shoulder surgery.
Coastal Racing’s Lane Michael put in some strong rides to finish seventh, while a newcomer to the series, New Zealander Liam Draper, finished eighth on a KR4 Husqvarna. Liam also won the new Pro2 class.
“This is a lot like our enduros back home in New Zealand, but without the trail time, and I actually prefer it like this,” said Draper. “I felt a little more comfortable in the Enduro test because it’s a lot like home, with all the roots.
Beta USA’s Mike Witkowski was ninth overall on a 250RR, while 10th overall and second in the Pro2 class went to Grizzly Peaks Yamaha’s Jacob Rowland. Third in the Pro2 class and 11th overall was Cole Mattison on a Yamaha.
KR4/Husqvarna/Rockstar’s Tayla Jones took top honors in the Women’s Pro division, beating out Bonanza Plumbing/Trail Jesters KTM by 35 seconds. Meanwhile, Becca Sheets took third on a FLY/Maxxis/Seat Concepts KTM.
“It was a competitive weekend, we all were pretty close and it was a good battle,” said Jones. “I had a few too many crashes, but I’m happy to come out with the win. It was a good weekend. The track was hard but it was fun at the same time.”
Tristian Stumbo won the Open A class ahead of Cody Pingley and Conner Smith, while the Lites A class was won by Brewer Cawley, with Devan Byer and Gary Inman in second and third.
The Kenda Full Gas Sprint Enduro Series resumes action with round 2 of its series in Bristol, Virginia, on March 24-25. For more information go to www.sprintenduro.com.
1. Ryan Sipes (Hsq)
2. Steward Baylor (KTM)
3. Josh Strang (Hsq)
4. Jordan Ashburn (Bet)
5. Evan Smith (Hsq)
6. Grant Baylor (KTM)
7. Layne Michael (Hsq)
8. Liam Draper (Hsq)
9. Mike Witkowski (Bet)
10. Jacob Rowland (Yam)