[Features]

10 Reasons to Bring Back the AORC’s Outright

1 year ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: AORC, John Parson Media, Troy Pears, Andy Wigan

Yeah, yeah, we know; the sport’s rulebook makes no reference to “Outright” or “Scratch” results for the Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC), and never did. It only acknowledges the series’ classes, right? Right! And, as we’ve happily conceded, the conscious decision in 2017 to emphasise class results, and drop any mention of the Outright altogether, was a well-intentioned one by the AORC’s Organising Committee. It served its purpose of bolstering the series’ value for sponsors and riders by ensuring more limelight reached all podium-getters in the major classes, not just the top Outright contenders.
But here we are, three seasons down the track, and we miss the AORC’s Outright more than ever. Did it really have to disappear so abruptly? Why does every skerrick of information about the AORC have to be devoid of any reference to Outright results or points standings? We feel shortchanged. And it seems we’re not alone.
So, while this pandemic has meant the 2020 AORC sits on ice for a bit, we figured it was time to propose the reinstatement of the Outright – not in place of the class results, but in addition to them. Here are the 10 main reasons we reckon it’s time to bring back the AORC’s Outright…

1. IT’S NOT AN EITHER/OR

As the stakeholders in the AORC – the riders, teams, manufacturers, sponsors, fans, host clubs and media – all remain vitally interested in how the top AORC riders are faring against each other in both their class and the Outright standings, surely it can’t be too difficult for the series’ PR (and the teams’ PR that generally follows it) to acknowledge both. That’s not contravening the rulebook; it’s simply recognising that the sport’s rulebook isn’t particularly effective at ensuring stakeholders are actively engaged.  And engagement is what makes sport – any sport – tick. For the past three years, organisers have actively withheld information about the AORC’s Outright results and standings, leaving the teams and independent media outlets to do the Outright table’s math themselves throughout the season. It’s farcical. Nonsensical. The teams need to know the Outright points because many top riders’ bonuses are based on them. And the media needs the Outright info to quench fans’ widespread thirst for it. How about we simply amend the rulebook for the 2021 season so that the Outright results can legitimately be made public for each AORC round – along with, not instead of, the class results? That ain’t hard to enact.

2. RACE FAN APPEAL

Without a doubt, the Outright adds another fascinating element to the AORC because it sheds light on the riders and/or machinery that punch above, or below, their weight when class parameters are removed from the equation. After all, riders pitting themselves against the clock is the essence of enduro racing, so why let the capacity of their bike get in the way of that? Why deprive everyone of that? To follow a series, and really buy into it, fans need simplicity, not an alphabet soup of classes and capacities. Sure, acknowledge the podium-placegetters in all major classes. But as the AORC is a national championship, just tell everyone who the nation’s fastest 10 (or 20) men are – at each round, and for the entire series.

3. FOSTERING WORLD-CLASS TALENT

The primary focus of the AORC’s Pro riders has always been, and always will be, the Outright results. Ask any youngster in the EJ class (or state-based rider) what motivates them, and they’ll tell you they’re driven to climb the standings in both class and Outright terms. Why? Because it gives them a broader, national benchmark to peg themselves against. Sure, riders all strive to be crowned national champions in the various Pro classes, but make no mistake; it’s the Outright that these guys most covet. Critically, this Outright rivalry has played a major role in the transformation of Australian enduro over the past 15 years, during which time we’ve gone from nobodies on the world stage (a few exceptions aside) to a powerhouse enduro nation. Our World, Junior and Women’s Trophy teams have now all won the International Six-Days Enduro (ISDE) more than once. And since 2012, Matt Phillips, Daniel Sanders and Daniel Milner have all won world titles in the EnduroGP World Championship or ISDE. If, in the formative years of the AORC, they’d raced in a sheltered, class-only environment, those incredible title-winning achievements may never have happened.

4. FOR TRADITION’S SAKE

Since the inception of the AORC in 2005, the line-up image of the series’ top-10 riders at the end-of-season presentation dinner – proudly holding their No.1 through No.10 front plates aloft – has long served as an iconic annual snapshot of the who’s who in Australia’s premier off-road series. And it’s a precursor to the race plates this select group of 10 riders will run the following season. If you’d run fourth Outright in the country’s most prestigious off-road series – but not in the top three in your class – would you be content to rock up the following season with your two- or three-digit race number, which pays zero homage to your previous season’s Outright success? No, you probably wouldn’t. A big No.4 on your bike would be much better – for you, your team, your sponsors and race fans. Racing numbers have a lot of currency with riders and fans alike, and the AORC needs to reinstate the recognition of that. Currently, the riders’ most sought-after prize – the Outright – is relegated to an afterthought at the end-of-the-year presentation, where only the Outright champ (and no one else) is acknowledged.

5. SPONSOR BONUSES

In spite of the Outright’s official disappearance from season 2017 onwards, several manufacturers and/or other sponsors still base their bonuses or contingency programs on a rider’s Outright results (at individual rounds and/or the series). Sponsors evidently still perceive the Outright as important because they understand that Outright results mean a lot to race fans too, and may even influence their purchasing decisions. If that’s the case, surely the series’ official PR and published results ought to reflect that.

6. ISDE TEAM SELECTION

When riders are selected to represent Australia at the annual ISDE, they’re selected on outright speed, not on their class performance. Sure, as a nation’s ISDE team has to enter riders in more than one class, a prospective rider’s abilities aboard different machinery is taken into account by the selection committee. But at the end of the day, a strong national team is made up of the fastest riders in the country. The fastest Outright guys. When MA is tipping something like $100,000 into that national team’s overseas campaign, it’s beholden on them to select riders on merit and take the strongest possible team. And the Outright results at the AORC – at each round, and over the course of the series – is by far and away the best indicator of a rider’s speed.

7. No.1 PLATE LOGISTICS

The current system means that there are several riders getting around with a No.1 plate on their bikes. If they stay in the same class for the following season, the reigning E1, E2, E3 and EJ class champs all get to run the coveted No.1 plate, albeit with different-coloured backgrounds. On top of that – because the AORC still piggybacks off various state enduro rounds – reigning state champs will also be running around with Numero Uno plates. Yep, you guessed it; this can get fabulously confusing for everyone. Back in 2016 (the last time when the top-10 Outright proudly ran their top-10 number plates), it was way easier for everyone – from a core AORC insider to a first-time spectator – to keep up with who was running where.

8. A RACE WITHIN A RACE

The insistence on not mentioning the Outright finishing positions at a cross-country round of the AORC – which uses an MX-style mass start – is a particularly absurd upshot of this clinical application of the rulebook. Imagine this: as a spectator, you’ve been enthralled at the three-hour ding-dong battle between Daniel Milner (E3), Daniel Sanders (E2) and Luke Styke (E1); you’ve witnessed the trio swap the lead countless times, determined to win the day’s Outright, not just their class. But you have to peel out a lap before the chequers fly to make your flight home. The second you land, you jump on to the AORC’s digital channels, desperate to find out who won the battle. And yet, the only information you can find is that Milner, Sanders and Styke each won their E3, E2 and E1 class, respectively. Nope, no mention of who won the bloody race! That’s left to you to work out yourself, manually comparing each rider’s elapsed times. Somehow, the AORC’s published results would have us believe that these blokes weren’t actually racing each other out there; that they were just racing to win their class, right?

9. THE CLASS DOMINANCE SCENARIO

Case in point: Last season, going into the final weekend of racing, Daniel Milner, Luke Styke and Kyron Bacon all held commanding leads in their classes (E2, E1 and EJ, respectively), while Daniel Sanders had already wrapped up the E3-class title. So you’d think that scenario would present the perfect opportunity for the series’ PR to shift its attention to the intriguing battle for Outright supremacy. Nope. No chance. Rules are rules, right? But how ridiculous is it to systematically not compare two of the world’s fastest riders (Milner and Sanders) when they’re competing together here in Australia for the AORC’s coveted Outright title, albeit in different classes. To our way of thinking, really ridiculous! And it’s a glaring opportunity lost for all AORC stakeholders.

10. RETROSPECTIVE IMPLICATIONS

In the 15 seasons since the AORC’s inception, just five riders have been crowned Outright Champions: AJ Roberts (2005, 2006, 2007), Chris Hollis (2008, 2011), Toby Price (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015), Daniel Milner (2014, 2017, 2018) and Daniel Sanders (2016, 2019). So, if the rulebook makes no official mention of the Outright, should we retrospectively strip these guys of their coveted Outright crowns? Do we disregard that Hollis was the only Outright champ who raced the AORC for 12 years? How about we tell Pricey his historic five Outright AORC titles counts for nothing (especially his first one, when he actually ran second to Stefan Merriman in the E2 class)? Should we overlook the fact Milner was the first guy to win the AORC Outright aboard a 250, and post an unmatched clean sweep season of 10-from-10 Outright wins? Or forget the fact AJ Roberts was the series’ inaugural Outright champ, and won on three different brands of motorcycle? Or say the fact that Sanders, at age 22, was the AORC’s youngest Outright champ is of no significance? Or just go ahead and tell all five riders that rules are rules and there’s no such thing as an Outright win at the AORC? Yes, the AORC is inextricably intertwined with both class and Outright success, so why undermine that rich history with some pedantic reference to a rulebook? The sport owes more to its champions than that.

OHH, & BLIZZARD’S OUTRIGHT TROPHIES

For the past two seasons, Garry “Good Times” Blizzard (former Transmoto test rider, and part-time technician on the KTM Enduro Racing Team) has handed out special, take-the-piss trophies (or miniature medallions, on occasion) for the top-10 Outright riders at each and every round of the AORC, much to the Organising Committee’s annoyance. Yes, it’s juvenile. But it makes a point. And it speaks to the widespread disappointment in the off-road community that the long-standing connection between the AORC and its Outright results has been unnecessarily severed.


2020 AORC OUTRIGHT TABLE

Unlike many racing series this year, the 2020 Yamaha AORC at least managed to get two weekends and three rounds of racing under its belt before the Coronavirus pandemic forced the postponement of Rounds 5 and 6, which were originally slated to take place at Nowra in NSW this weekend just gone.
So, let’s take this opportunity to catch up on the state of play of the AORC’s illustrious Outright standings after Round 3, shall we…

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