Sammy Halbert (No. 69 Yamaha YZ450F) passed Jake Johnson (No. 5 Honda CRF450R) for the lead on lap 2 of the Harley-Davidson GNC1 presented by Vance & Hines 25-lap main event Thursday night at the DAYTONA Flat Track and never looked back for a convincing victory in the season-opening race of the 2016 AMA Pro Flat Track season.
Halbert, who earlier in the evening set the GNC1 division’s fastest qualifying time (18.638 seconds) on the quarter-mile course, steadily opened up his lead in the caution-free race. He also posted the fastest lap of the race (19.066 seconds) on lap 2 to take the Öhlins Fastest Lap Award, earned the McElroy Packaging Lucky 13 Award by leading the race at the completion of the 13th lap, and took the checkered flag a race-high 1.382 seconds ahead of runner-up Brandon Robinson (No. 5 Honda CRF450).
Halbert saluted the large crowd in attendance with some celebratory “doughnuts” after the finish.
“It’s been way too long and we just got to keep it rolling,” Halbert said. “The boys did a good job getting it hooked up. I am not a guy who usually does doughnuts or knows how but you just got to win Daytona and you learn how instantly. When you win Daytona it just comes naturally, and I am just so happy to get up here on top.”
Halbert’s victory followed podium finishes on the DAYTONA Flat Track in three of the past four years and was his first victory on the GNC1 tour since 2013 on the Stockton Half-Mile in California.
Robinson, who started fifth on the front row just to the right of Halbert, moved up to second in the race’s early laps but was never able to get close enough to attempt a winning pass.
“It’s a great way to start the season,” Robinson said. “It’s exactly what we need. It shows how good we are this year and hopefully we can keep this momentum going.”
Brad Baker (No. 6 Honda CRF450R) finished third after starting in the same position and just on the other side of Halbert on the grid.
“I feel really good,” Baker said. “I have to tell you that it was a tough one tonight, you had to ride really tense with a lot of caution, but I am really happy to be on the podium. It’s a good way to start out the year. It’s a long season and consistency is the key for a championship, and you can never be disappointed with a podium. At DAYTONA this is probably one of my best finishes for the past couple of years.”
Three-time and reigning GNC1 Champion Jared Mees (No. 1 Honda CRF450R) finished fourth while 2014 and 2015 title runner-up Bryan Smith (No. 42 Kawasaki KX450F) completed the top five. Smith, who advanced to the main after winning his semi, improved eight positions after starting 14th to capture the MotoBatt Hard Charger Award.
In the 16-lap GNC2 main event, Dalton Gauthier (No. 14A Yamaha YZ450F) slipped past Jesse Janisch (No. 32L Honda CRF450R) on lap 2 and raced to the victory. He opened up a race-high 1.3-second lead only to see the margin disappear when the race’s second red-flag incident stopped the action on lap 10. Gauthier kept both his composure and the race lead on the restart and went on to take the victory by 0.714 of a second.
“I knew how to get a start in front of these guys,” Gauthier said. “I kept looking at the jumbotron and was seeing that I was pulling away from them and I knew that I was good. I looked back and I knew that I had enough ground to get the win.”
Last year’s DAYTONA Flat Track round two race winner, Justin Jones (No. 19B Honda CRF450), finished second while Hayden Gillim (No. 69C Suzuki RM-Z450) snagged the final podium position in third. Michael Lainhart (No. 17B Honda CRF450R) earned the NERGIA Fast Moving Award by gaining 11 positions to finish 6th in the GNC2 Main.
In preliminary race action, Halbert, Baker and Johnny Lewis won GNC1 heats and Smith andStevie Bonsey split the GNC1 semis.
Gauthier, Jones and Jamison Minor won GNC2 heats while Tyler Seguin and Tristan Avery were victorious in the semis.
In the Super Hooligans exhibition race, Roland Sands (No. 10 Indian Scout) won in the first appearance of the series at the DAYTONA Flat Track.
A doubleheader event, the AMA Pro Flat Track opener continues tomorrow, Friday, March 11 with round two of the 2016 season on the DAYTONA Flat Track.