[News]

2018 AORC: Season Preview

4 months ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: John Pearson Media, Motorcycling Australia, 6HD, Wilkinson Photography

This weekend in Gympie, Queensland, 250 riders will get their 2018 Yamaha Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC) campaigns underway. But what changes are in store for this year’s 11-round series? Which riders and teams have joined the country’s premier off-road series for 2018? Who are the short-odd favourites in each class? Well, here are your answers to all those questions and more…

THE HERITAGE

  • The Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC) is heading into its 14th consecutive season in 2018 (though it was only officially given “Australian Championship” status by in 2006, after its maiden year as the “National Off-Road Series”).
  • Yamaha motor Australia has extended their naming-rights sponsorship of the AORC for 2018. Incredibly, 2018 is the 13th consecutive year that Yamaha has thrown its support behind the country’s most prestigious off-road series.
  • 2018 represents the ninth consecutive season (since 2010) that the AORC will be run in conjunction with the various state enduro rounds, and under the management of Motorcycling Australia.

THE CALENDAR

The 11-round 2018 series visits four states and incorporates an all-new round at Broken Hill with a ‘Silver City’ desert-racing flavour, run by Dirt2Ride Events’ Lyndon Heffernan.

  • Round 1 & 2: March 10-11 @ Gympie, Qld
  • Round 3 & 4: May 5-6 @ Hedley, Vic.
  • Round 5 & 6: July 28-29 @ Dungog, NSW
  • Round 7: Sept 1-2 @ Broken Hill, NSW
  • Round 8 & 9: September 22-23 @ Stonefield, SA
  • Round 10 & 11: 6-7 Oct 6-7 @ Omeo, Vic

THE CONTENDERS

YAMAHA…

  • The Activae8 Yamalube Yamaha off-road team has ratcheted up their rider line-up for 2018, with Josh Green, Beau Ralston and Wil Ruprecht being joined by former MX Nats Under 19s and MX1-class champ, Luke Styke, who’s realistic about his off-road learning curve, but not afraid to say that he has an E1 title in his sights in his maiden AORC season.

  • Having previously won the E1 title and finished second Outright, Josh Green has had an injury-free off-season and comes into Round 1 more fired up than we’ve seen him in years.
  • After a gnarly leg injury that sidelined him for most of the 2017 season, Beau Ralston is only recently back on the bike, and loving it! The former E2-class champ is focusing his energies on the Finke Desert Race in June, after which he plans to join the AORC series (at Rounds 5-6 in Dungog).
  • The reigning E1-class champ, Wil Ruprecht, has stepped up to the E2 class and was looking to make it three Championship wins in a row (after winning the EJ in 2016 and E1 in 2017). Sadly, a shoulder injury means the likeable youngster will sit out the opening two rounds in Queensland. And with the depth in E2, it’s highly unlikely he’ll be able to claw back that points’ deficit and be a title contender.
  • A young French ride called Jeremy Carpentier is also a dark horse for the E1 title. Teamed up with his girlfriend, Jess Gardiner, on the all-new MXstore Ballard’s Off-Road Team, the 24-year-old Carpentier is a two-time French Junior Enduro Champ and ran third in the E1 class in last year’s French national enduro series.
  • Speaking of Jess Gardiner, the 24-year-old is back in Oz (after winning the Women’s Championnat de France d’enduro and the FIM European Enduro Championship) and has her sights set on winning her fourth AORC Women’s title. Standing is her way, though, is fellow Yamaha rider; Gardiner’s long-time rival and another multiple AORC Women’s title winner, Jemma Wilson. Together with Emelie Carlson, the Yamaha-mounted trio will be hard to top in the EW class, though previous form would suggest that KTM’s Tamara Gray and Sherco’s Sophie Coldicott are also genuine podium contenders.
  • Finally for the blue squad, reigning EJ-class champ, Michael Driscoll, is back to defend his title this year.

KTM…

  • Reigning Outright AORC Champ, KTM’s Daniel Milner, already holds a few records. He was the first guy to win the Outright AORC title aboard a 250cc machine in 2014. In 2017, he was the first rider to clean-sweep the AORC. And in 2018, with Milner stepping up to the E3 class aboard KTM’s 500EXC-F, he’s poised to be the first guy in AORC history to win the AORC’s triple crown – the E1, E2 and E3 classes (and, potentially, his third Outright AORC title in the process).

  • Milner’s KTM teammate, Lyndon Snodgrass, moves to the E2 class and from a 300cc two-stroke to a 450cc four-stroke. The reigning E3 class champ (who ran second Outright to Milner in 2017) looks fit and focused and ready to go one better in 2018.
  • Also aboard KTM machinery, the 2016 E1 champ, the mercurial Jack Simpson, is back from an injury-plagued 2017 and focused on reclaiming the E1 title.


HUSQVARNA…

  • The Husqvarna Enduro Racing Team retains Lachlan Stanford for the fifth year, and he’ll be joined by two new teammates for 2018, Daniel Sanders and Fraser Higlett. After two runner-up finishes in E3, Stanford is overdue for his first AORC title, and his brewing rivalry with Daniel Milner might just be the motivation he needs to get it this year.
  • Daniel “Chucky” Sanders is back in Oz after a challenging 2017 season in Europe contesting the EnduroGP World Championship. While some have questioned the 23-year-old Victorian’s move from his beloved 300cc two-stroke (which he dominated the 2016 AORC aboard) to Husqvarna’s 450cc four-stroke in the E2 class, it’s a rejuvenated Sanders that’ll line up in Gympie on Saturday.

  • Having run a close second in the 2017 EJ class, Fraser Higlett has moved from a support deal to a fully-fledged factory ride this season for his tilt at the E1 class title, and the guy has stepped up his focus and training program accordingly.
  • After notching up multiple titles in the AORC’s Junior classes over the past few years, the Brierley brothers, Josh and Mitch, step into the Senior ranks in 2018. And having won the 2017 Transmoto 6-Hour at Stroud late last year, there are big expectations for these two quietly spoken – but highly driven – youngsters to really take the battle up to the sport’s more experienced Pro pilots.

NEW TEAMS

Several of the major AORC race teams have stepped up their roster of riders for 2018, plus a couple of all-new teams have joined the series:

  • Kawasaki is making a push back into the AORC with PD (Peter Daniel) Allan and his younger brother, Lachlan, with the Kawasaki Castrol Racing Team. The team is managed by the boys’ old man (and Gympie round promoter), Peter Allan, with both riders contesting the E1 Pro class aboard KX250F machinery. Remember that it was with Kawasaki (the Shift MSC Kawasaki Team) that Toby Price got his AORC start way back in 2009, when he won the first of his five Outright AORC titles.
  • The recently appointed Australian distributor for Gas Gas, Urban Motor Imports, has stepped up the Spanish brand’s off-road racing presence in Oz with a three-rider AORC line-up for 2018, all of whom will be riding Gasser’s much revamped EC250 and EC300 two-strokes. Former Team Husqvarna rider and former E2 podium-placegetter, Broc Grabham (E3 class), will be joined by Jade Gartlan (Vets) and Ashden Gramlick (EJ).

THE CLASSES

Need a reminder of the AORC’s classes? Say no more. Here you go:

SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP CLASSES

  • E1: 100cc-200cc 2-Stroke // 150cc-250cc 4-Stroke
  • E2: 220cc-250cc 2-Stroke // 275cc-450cc 4-Stroke
  • E3: 290cc-500cc 2-Stroke // 475cc-650cc 4-Stroke
  • EJ: All powers (rider must be 18 years or under on Jan 1, 2018)
  • Veterans: All powers (rider must be 35+ years of age before Jan 1, 2018)
  • Masters: All powers (rider must be 45+ years of age before Jan 1, 2018)
  • Women: All powers

Note that the EJ (Enduro Junior class) has changed its age rules slightly. Riders must now be 18 years or under as of January 1, 2018 (previously, to accommodate differing driver’s licence ages in various states, the age limit was 19 as at January 1).

JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP CLASSES

  • J2: 12-15 Years 85cc 2-Stroke // up to 150cc 4-Stroke
  • J3: 13-14 Years 125cc-200cc 2-Stroke // 200cc-250cc 4-Stroke
  • J4: 15 Years 125cc-200cc 2-Stroke // 200cc-250cc 4-Stroke

NUMBER PLATE BACKGROUNDS

To help spectators identify which class a rider is in, there’s been a tweak to the number plate backgrounds for 2018, which basically brings the AORC in line with the FIM EnduroGP World Championship:

  • E1: Black backgrounds, white numbers
  • E2: White backgrounds, black numbers
  • E3: Yellow backgrounds, black numbers
  • EJ: Green backgrounds, white numbers
  • Women: Purple backgrounds, white numbers

SUPPORT CLASSES

AORC will see for the first time the inclusion of support classes at certain rounds in 2018:

  • 125 Amateur Cup (125cc 2-Stroke, Rounds 5 & 6 and 10 & 11)
  • Pony Express (All Powers, Rounds 7 and 10 & 11); and
  • Vintage (Evo Pre ’86, Rounds 5 & 6).

THE WEBSITE

Stay up to date in the lead up to the 2018 Yamaha Australian Off-Road Championship by visiting the AORC website at www.aorc.org.au or by following the AORC on Twitter and Facebook as well as @aorc on Instagram.


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