2018 A4DE: The Standout Stories

9 months ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: John Pearson, Salvatore Aloisio

At the historic 40th running of the Yamaha Australian 4-Day Enduro (A4DE) at Cessnock, Daniel Milner’s impeccable performance en route to his fifth Outright 4-Day title was something to behold. As was the heritage-filled spectacle of 75 Vintage-class riders taking on one of the 4-Day’s most brutal courses in hot and dusty conditions.
But what about the other standout storylines to come out of the 2018 A4DE? Well, here are a few that simply have to rate a mention:


They breed ’em tough in the Hunter Valley, and the Cessnock Motorcycle Club posse who presided over the track build for the historic 40th running of the 4-Day weren’t about to wheel out a sissy version of a course made famous by the maiden A4DE at Cessnock in 1978 and the 1992 International Six Days Enduro (ISDE), which was run on many of the same tracks. By all accounts, the 2018 4-Day was one of the toughest on record, made infinitely more challenging by the lack of rain and high temps in month leading up to the event. It’s true that competitors’ campsites at the Cessnock Showgrounds were awash with complaints about how relentless the first three days’ riding were. But it was equally as true that, after the event, there was a tangible sense of achievement for those who did finish the gruelling event. And as all 4-Day aficionados will tell you, that’s exactly what this annual event is all about.


With so much depth in the Australian off-road race scene these days, it’s rare to see the elite-level riders split by more than 20 or 30 seconds after a day’s racing. But at this year’s 4-Day, KTM’s Daniel Milner and Husky’s Daniel Sanders – the AORC’s 2016 and 2017 Outright winners, respectively – were on another level altogether.

Both Daniels won their classes, and in the Outright standings, Milner beat Sanders by a little over a minute. But then Yamaha’s Josh Green was another three minutes adrift in third Outright. In addition to winning his fifth Outright A4DE title (and announcing that he has Shane Watts’ record of six Outright wins in his sights), Milner’s also managed to notch the first a ‘triple crown’ in the modern era’s class structure: an Outright 4-Day win in E1, E2 and E3 classes. Bravo!


While it’s fair to say that a growing percentage of off-road riders come from motocross backgrounds, moto hotheads usually take a few seasons to find their groove in off-road circles. Not so for Yamaha’s Luke Styke. The former MX2-class national MX and SX champ hit the ground running at the opening rounds of the Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC) in March and carried that balls-out speed and consistency into his 4-Day debut. Not only did the cocksure 26-year-old win the E1 class; he also ran a brilliant fourth Outright, just 25 seconds off his teammate, Josh Green, in third. If Styke had nailed this result on a course full of MX-style grasstrack tests, no one would have batted an eyelid. But few expected he’d be capable of the result on a hard-as-nails legit enduro course with long days, tight trail times, and a sea of knee-deep, bulldust-strewn ruts. Yes, Luke Styke sure has arrived on the off-road scene, and he’s already eying off the biggest Outright trophy.


As Daniel Milner pointed out, winning at event where so many of the sport’s founding fathers were on hand made it extra special for him. And how cool was it to have the A4DE’s inaugural winner, Norm Watts, there?! Still looking fit as a flea and clearing enjoying a spot of reminiscing back in his old stomping grounds, the 74-year-old father of World Enduro and GNCC champion, Shane, made a gracious speech at the presentation. According to his wife, Stephanie, he still gets out on his dirt bike a couple of times a week. No couch for this Norm. Respect!
For the record, Norm raced in the Masters class at Cessnock’s 2018 instalment. He had issues on Day 1 and timed out, but made up for it by coming second in the final moto, in a classic demonstration race for the old timers.


Enduro has always been a sport where experience counts, and its riders tend to hit their peak in their late 20s. Well, no one gave that memo to 18-year-old Fraser Higlett, 17-year-old Michael Driscoll or 16-year-old Joshua Brierley. These young guns finished seventh, eight and 20th Outright, with Higlett and Driscoll running 2-3 in the E1 class. In fact, without a contentious one-minute penalty, Higlett would have run fifth Outright. That sure augurs well for the future of the sport.


Having managed KTM’s off-road and desert racing teams for arguably some of their most successful seasons, Ben Grabham surprised the entire industry when he moved to a product/dealer development role with Beta Australia 18 months ago. And he might just be looking for a pay rise from his Beta bosses after the 2018 4-Day, having handed the Italian brand its first ever class win (aboard an RR500, Grabbo won the Vets Over 35 years class). Running an impressive 18th Outright showed the 36-year-old still has the speed and tenacity that brought him so many titles in enduro, desert racing and dirt track circles.


At the 2010 A4DE, Jess Gardiner and Jemma Wilson staged an epic battle that went down to the wire in the final moto. Gardiner prevailed and won her first 4-Day title in the Women’s class that year. And her victory at the 2018 event was her fifth 4-Day win. Despite contesting 11 A4DEs, a 4-Day title continues to elude Wilson. “My fiancé, John, and I were engaged shortly before my first 4-Day back in 2006, which was the first time the event ran a Women’s class,” Wilson pointed out at the presentation night. “And John and I plan to get married a few months after this 4-Day, which will be my last.

“I’ve also decided not to race the ISDE in 2018. After joining Jess and Tayla Jones to win the past five ISDEs, it’s time I stepped aside and let another girl grab the opportunity with two hands.”
Gracious in defeat, but emotional to have raced her last 4-Day, Wilson congratulated Gardiner – herself in tears at the presentation because her ‘French Mum’ (former partner and World Enduro Champ, Matthias Belllino’s mum) had passed away during the 4-Day.


Brad “Wonka” Williscroft is a wily old stager and he was always going to be a tough man to beat in the Masters (Over 45 years) class. Cutting a dashing figure at the final moto in his matching baby-blue riding gear, boots and bike graphics, the former KTM Off-Road Racing team manager clinched his ninth class-win at the A4DE. Incredible! Just don’t remind him about the Outright 4-Day title he never quite won. Poor bastard ran second in two of them – both to Ben Grabham – by less than 5 seconds!


“Mate, I’m living and working in The Philippines these days and I haven’t ridden in 30 years, but I just had to come back for this 40th anniversary event,” explained 59-year-old Jeff Dawson, who won a class at the 1980 4-Day at Cessnock. “This year, I thought they’d be sending us old blokes around a few quick special tests and then shortcut us back to the beer tent, but we rode about three-quarters of the bloody course they sent the Pro riders on the modern bikes around.

And I can tell you, it was no walk in the park. In fact, it was bloody tough, but also a bloody good event. I’m just wondering why I chose to race it on a 1982 WR250. And so is my body!” That’s just one of 75 such stories from the Vintage class, which was a resounding success – much of which Geoff Udy can take the credit for. For the record, Dawson finished fifth Outright in the Vintage class.


Presentation dinners for the off-road scene tend to be loose affairs at the best of times. So it’s become somewhat of a tradition in recent years for off-road stalwart, Damian Smith, to add some decorum to proceedings. And Damo was on-form at Cessnock. With several ales under his belt, the multiple national champ and Australian ISDE team representative let loose on the unsuspecting crowd, and brought the house down. On track, the 43-year-old’s blistering speed was still on show at the Cessnock event, but it’s clear he’s got a future in stand-up comedy when he does hang the boots up (or when his knees become too cactus to lay any more carpet!).


After three days of relentless dust, the conditions at for the Day 4 final moto must have felt like an oasis for riders. Yep, the soil at the Cessnock Racecourse looked like chocolate cake mix. And with local earthmoving businessman, celebrity and Australia’s first ISDE gold medal winner, Phil Lovett, expertly keeping the water up to it, it set the stage for a several fantastic final moto battles. The standouts were between Brad Williscroft and James Deakin (Masters), Ben Grabham and Damian Smith (Vets), Luke Style and Jack Simpson (E1) and Daniel Sanders and Josh Green (E2). And even though the E3 class’ Daniel Milner had fresh air in second place in his moto, the bloke’s blinding speed made his moto equally as captivating for the big spectator turnout.

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