FMF KTM’S BEN KELLEY CROWNED 2021 GNCC
NATIONAL CHAMPION AT TREACHEROUS IRONMAN FINALE
CRAWFORDSVILLE, Ind. – FMF KTM Factory Racing’s Ben Kelley has clinched the 2021 GNCC National Championship with a thriving performance in what ultimately came down to a grueling race of survival at Sunday’s Ironman GNCC finale.
Poised to fight all the way to the final checkers, the tightly-contested championship battle experienced yet another hurdle with immense rainfall coming down all morning, causing a delay in the start of the race, along with a condensed two-hour competition and drastically altered course for the normal three-hour bout. Kelley had a good jump off the start in second but his bike fell victim to the adverse conditions towards the end of the first lap and as a result, the points leader found himself in 88th overall with his championship rival, Steward Baylor Jr., close in tow. With the title still on the line, Kelley dug deep to fight his way through the chaos, passing his way up to a points-paying position later in the race. With a strong finish, Kelley was able to come away with ninth overall, which was enough to wrap up his first premier class title in 2021.
KTM has maintained control of GNCC’s XC1 title for nine consecutive years following a hearty run by eight-time champ Kailub Russell, who held the crown from 2013 to 2020. Now, earning the title in his first full season in the class, the 25-year-old Kelley carries the torch into the next generation of KTM’s offroad racing talent. His path was anything but clear, as the three-time race-winner experienced stiff competition from Baylor all season long but he maintained consistency by finishing 10 of the 13 rounds on the podium. He put his best foot forward in the final moments of the series to uphold his points lead under pressure, further showcasing his drive and determination to transition from an up-and-coming two-time XC2 250 Pro Champion to the No. 1 rider in the premier division.
Ben Kelley: “That was a crazy way to end the season like this. I wanted to go out on top with a win but I did what I had to do to finish and get this championship. It was mayhem, total survival out there. I was trying to be cautious but it was nearly impossible – if you went slow, you’d submerge your bike. After a crazy day, it feels really good and all the hard work paid off, I’m stoked!”
FMF KTM Factory Racing Team Manager, Antti Kallonen: “First of all, I want to congratulate Ben on an awesome and consistent year he had and for bringing in the championship for KTM once again. Going into the season, our goal was to retain the #1 plate and we never took our eyes off that goal, every day we prepared for it. We were able to utilize Kailub [Russell], Charlie [Mullins] and our team’s knowledge, expertise and support – it’s a team effort and it showed, especially at the last round when the environment is tough and demanding. A young rider coming up, graduating from XC2 a few years ago and now to immediately rise to the top and claim the #1 plate with the KTM family is really amazing. Ben deserves it, he never lost focus, never took his eyes off the prize and made it happen."
Kallonen added, “This is a special one. After winning eight championships with Kailub, to be able to continue with the next generation truly speaks volumes about the team, about the riders we have and the entire structure. Kailub kind of passed the torch to Ben and the team and I just have to say congratulations to everyone involved, this is a great feeling.”
Teammate Josh Toth had a tough start to the day as he found himself at the back of the pack on the opening lap due to a mental miscue off the start. He made his way into a top-five position in the class halfway through the race but his bike ultimately succumbed to the deep river crossing forcing him out of the race with two laps to go. After 13 rounds, Toth secured a top-five finish in the 2021 championship standings.
Josh Toth: “I falsely started my bike unfortunately, so I turned it off and got a bad jump off the line. On the first lap, they had to hold me another 15 seconds and I was pretty far back. I was doing good until a deep river crossing, where I think I sucked water and blew up my bike.”
XC1 Open Pro Results – Ironman GNCC
1. Thad DuVall, HQV, 02:08:37.256
2. Josh Strang, KAW, +28.283
3. Craig DeLong, HQV, +03:37.151
4. Ben Kelley, KTM, +05:05.440
5. Josh Toth, KTM
Overall Championship Standings
1. Ben Kelley, 304 points
2. Steward Baylor Jr., 284
3. Jordan Ashburn, 215
5. Josh Toth, 164