Over 400 riders filled the start grids at the opening round of the Kenda Full Gas Sprint Enduro Series in Gaston, South Carolina, where Kailub Russell emerged as the overall victor ahead of a stacked field of talented pros.
Russell was making his return to the Kenda Full Gas Sprint Enduro Series, having last competed in 2015 – a year when he won the title. The FMF KTM rider hadn’t lost a step, however, and posted the fastest time in the first test of the weekend by an amazing eight seconds over the next closest rider.
The two-day event would not be a Russell runaway though, as Josh Strang would end up splitting wins over the course of the two days, with Russell winning Saturday’s round and Strang winning Sunday’s.
In all, Russell won five of the six tests on Saturday and two of six on Sunday to claim the overall win by 35 seconds over Strang.
“It’s been a while since I raced this series but I’ve still got sprint speed,” said Russell. “I had a good start to the weekend on Saturday and finished the first day with a good cushion. I had a good start to day two, as well, but I had a couple of little tip-overs in the third test and then everyone else stepped it up. I gave away a little time in that test so I was playing catch-up for the rest of the day and I fell a little short in getting a clean sweep of the two days.”
Strang, who was making his first appearance with the new Babbitt’s Monster Energy Kawasaki team at the South Carolina race, improved from fourth place on Saturday to first place on Sunday en route to second place overall. The Aussie off-road star won three tests on Sunday to edge Russell by four seconds to win the Sunday round.
Strang was pleased with the runner-up finish in his debut with the new team.
“I think I had a case of nerves on Saturday, but I was still pretty steady. I think I maybe put a bit of pressure on myself because of the new team,” said Strang. “I was more relaxed and I rode like I know how to ride on Sunday. It was a stacked class with everyone that was here, and the track got super rough, so it was a tough race. I’m happy with second and I’m looking forward to the season. It’s going to be a really competitive year.”
In his first race since November due to an injury he suffered last year, Thad DuVall turned in a promising performance and posted the fastest time in two of the tests (one on each day), but a “bad” test on each day kept the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna rider from challenging for the win. On Saturday, DuVall lost his brakes in the Enduro test and on Sunday he crashed.
“It definitely wasn’t without a struggle,” DuVall said about his weekend. “I just had one bad test on each day, and that cost me. I just need to brush up on my sprint speed and I’ll be all right. I turned in some good times and I won the last test on each day, but I just had a bad moment on each day.”
Josh Toth underwent “arm pump” surgery on each arm just 15 days before the South Carolina race, but still managed to finish second behind Russell on Saturday. A nasty crash on Sunday in the second test of the day left the FMF KTM rider a little tentative and he ultimately finished fifth for the day and fourth overall.
“I was a little nervous going into the first test, so I think I was a little tight but everything still went pretty well,” said Toth. “I crashed pretty hard in the first Enduro test on Sunday and landed on my arm, so it was pretty sore after that. I was a little beat up and sore at the end of the day and I think the arms could use a little more time to recover.”
Evan Smith rode a 250F to fifth overall, which was impressive, considering the sandy conditions. The Husqvarna/Max Motorsports/FXR Racing-backed rider, who was particularly fast in the Enduro test, easily won the Pro2 class with the finish.
“I tried not to put any pressure on my self and I just tried to have a good time and I think I rode loose, which translated into fast times,” said Smith. “It was a good weekend. No crashes, just a couple of bobbles.”
Trail Jesters Racing/KTM’s Ben Kelley came close to winning the final Enduro test of the weekend but he stalled his engine near the end, and had to settle for second in the test and sixth overall for the weekend.
“Saturday didn’t go too well; I just struggled and wasn’t smooth. I was coming into the corners too fast and I just trying too hard,” said Kelley. “On Sunday I just tried to smooth out a little and pick up the pace and I ended up having a pretty good day.”
New Zealand’s Liam Draper rode his Tely Energy Racing KTM to seventh overall, 19 seconds ahead of Babbitt’s Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Jordan Ashburn. Coastal Racing Husqvarna’s Craig DeLong finished ninth overall, while Ohio Husqvarna rider Cory Buttrick rounded out the top 10.
Tegan Temple finished 11th overall and second in the Pro 2 class behind Pro 2 winner Evan Smith. Meanwhile, Beta USA’s Mike Witkowski was 12th overall and third in the Pro 2 class. Witkowski finished just two seconds behind Temple after two days of racing.
Women's Pro Division
In the Women’s Pro division, Husqvarna-backed Tayla Jones took the overall win by over two minutes ahead of Mackenzie Tricker.
“It was a pretty good weekend and the track was pretty fun, although it got pretty rough,” said Jones. “I had one or two crashes, but other than that I had a good weekend and it was a good start to my 2019 season.”
Ohio’s Becca Sheets was third on a Maxxis-sponsored KTM.
The new Pro/Am class was won by local rider Brewer Cawley, with fellow South Carolina rider Cody Johnson in second and Ohio’s Triston Landrum in third.
The Kenda Full Gas Sprint Enduro Series returns to action on March 2-3 in Blackshear, Georgia for round two of the series.
For more info on the series go to www.sprintenduro.com.
Report and Photos Shan MooreNorth American Correspondentshan@tandenews.com