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The Kenda Full Gas Three-Day Enduro

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This article was originally featured in the August 2017 print edition of Dirt Rider

Team USA’s victory at last year’s ISDE in Spain brought renewed interest among American off-road fans in one of the sport’s oldest disciplines. The International Six Days Enduro was regarded as the pinnacle of off-road racing in the late ’60s, but interest waned on this side of the pond when motocross burst onto the scene in the early ’70s. However, after Team USA won the World Trophy Team title for the first time ever, “Six Days” is once again back on the radar and the AMA and US Team Manager Antti Kallonen are now tasked with keeping the Six Days fires stoked.

Churning out winning efforts year after year is a difficult job—just ask Roger DeCoster, who manages the US Motocross of Nations effort. But thanks to special events like the Full Gas Three-Day Enduro in Greeneville, Tennessee, riders have a great new opportunity to train for the ISDE. The event also gives the AMA and Kallonen a chance to develop and evaluate future Six Days riders.

Similar to the East and West Quali­fiers the AMA promotes each year, the Kenda Full Gas Three-Day Enduro is set up to simulate the ISDE in as many details as possible, including the impounding of bikes at the end of each day, transfer trail between tests, and work periods before and after each day where only the rider can turn the wrenches. It’s a great primer in the unique rules that govern the ISDE.

This year’s event gave Kallonen a chance to pick World Trophy and Junior World Trophy riders for the event in France and to get a look at a few up-and-comers who are waiting in the wings. Last year, the FIM changed the rules so that instead of the traditional six riders on the World Trophy Team, there would only be four riders, while the Junior team was reduced from four riders to three. So in Tennessee, Kallonen was looking for not only the four fastest riders but also the four who would do the best job of staying error free for the entire six days, since the new rules also state that there are no longer any “throw-out scores,” meaning all four riders’ scores are counted each day.

“I think we accomplished a lot at the Three-Day Enduro, and it gave each of our guys a chance to see where they stand in their preparation for France,” Kallonen said. “We have a target on our backs since we’re the defending champions, and we’ll have a lot of pressure on us just for that reason, so we can’t be overconfident when we go there.”

Kallonen also said the extreme conditions in Tennessee worked to the benefit of the team.

“This event was especially good for us because of the weather,” Kallonen related. “We had miserable conditions, with the rain and mud, and it’s not something you would normally go out and practice in for safety reasons. But since it was a race, it forced everyone to ride and I think it was very good experience because there’s a very good chance the conditions will be muddy in France where this year’s event is going to be held.”

There’s no doubt the ISDE is a special race. It has special rules that are considerably different from any series we have here in the States, which is why ISDE training camps and qualifiers are needed to prepare riders like Connecticut’s Josh Toth for Six Days competition.

Toth is a rising star when it comes to ISDE competition, and he had a breakout performance at last year’s event in Spain, where he finished as the top individual Club rider. This year, Toth will anchor a highly talented Junior World Trophy Team, which also includes Grant Baylor and Layne Michael; last year Michael was on the World Trophy Team.

Layne Michael

 
“I wish we had more events like the Three-Day Enduro because it’s such good practice for the ISDE,” Toth said. “Six Days is all about keeping your focus for six full days, and even after six days of riding it can still come down to a tenth of a second when you’re talking about the top few guys. Also, there is so much more to doing well at Six Days than just going fast. You have to be smart enough so that you don’t cost your team any foolish points with a dumb mistake. You also can’t lose any trail points getting from one test to the next.” Toth and the rest of the team even practiced walking the tests at the Three-Day Enduro.

“Walking the tests is super important, and we will walk each one in France four or five times,” Toth added. “Braking too early because you don’t know what’s on the other side of a rise can cost you time, so you need to memorize the trail the best you can.”

Taylor Robert, winner of last year’s ISDE Individual Overall Award, will be riding a 500 in the E3 class in France, and he told Dirt Rider that the Tennessee event gave him a chance to get some valuable seat time on a 500, something he doesn’t get to do in the WORCS or Hare & Hound series he’s focusing on this year.

“Six Days is tough for us because the rules say you have to have at least one rider in each of the three classes, E1, E2, and E3,” Robert explained. “We don’t have an E3 class in any of the major series here in the United States. The E3 class is for 300cc and above two-strokes or 500cc and above four-strokes, and we just don’t have those classes, so every year we struggle to find a rider who can ride the E3 class.”

Robert has ridden the E3 class at Six Days in the past, most recently in Argentina in 2014. And in the WORCS and Hare & Hound series, he rides a 450, so Kallonen felt Robert would be making the smallest adjustment of any of the riders if he rode a 500 in the E3 class. And Robert agreed.

“The 500 is not that different from the 450 I’m riding now, and I’ll take the time needed to adapt to the 500 before the event in France, so it was just the logical choice for me to ride E3,” Robert added. As far as the rest of the team, Kallonen explained his choices.

“Ryan Sipes will ride E1 on the 250F because he has a lot of experience in Supercross on a 250F. Besides, I actually think a 250F suits his style better. Kailub Russell and Thad Duvall will ride 350s, which is what they ride in the GNCC series and those two are sitting first and second in that series. Meanwhile, Taylor will ride a 500 because he’s ridden the E3 class before and he likes riding the 500.”

Commenting on last year’s winning effort by Robert, Duvall, Russell, and Michael in the World Trophy Team division, Kallonen echoed Toth’s sentiments that it’s important to eliminate mistakes—something Kallonen has been very strict about.

“When I took over running the team I set a goal of winning the team title in three years, but it ultimately took us five,” Kallonen said. “Each year after the event, I would compile a list of mistakes we made that year, and the next year we worked hard not to make those mistakes again. Each year my list grew bigger, but each year we got better about not making those same mistakes. Last year it all paid off because we kept our mistakes to a minimum, which is very hard to do in an event as long as the ISDE. And when we have new riders come into a team then we need to drill into their brains what were the mistakes that previous riders have made and how not to make them, which is why it is important to have events throughout the year to practice for Six Days.”

Even mechanics need to know what they can and cannot do, and each year a few new mechanics go to Six Days, so they have to learn the rules.

“The only thing the mechanics are allowed to do is put fuel and oil into the bikes, and we can also hand the riders tools,” AmPro Yamaha Crew Chief Corey MacDonald told us. “If a mechanic gets caught putting a wrench on a bolt or working on the bike, then the rider can be penalized. A mechanic can’t even catch the bike if it is falling over.”

This year’s 92nd running of the ISDE will take place in Brive-la-Gaillarde, France, on August 28 through September 2. To get daily updates, be sure to check out dirtrider.com during the event and look for a feature story about it in an upcoming issue.