Husky’s AORC Young Gun
Back in early 2015, Husqvarna’s Brand Manager Jon Hafey spotted a young bloke who, despite riding a crappy old Husky CR125 two-stroke, was towelling his fellow Junior-class riders up at the first round of the Australian Enduro-X Nats. His name was Fraser Higlett, and Hafey promptly offered the Brisbane-based talent a fresh FE250. Within a month, Higlett had won the Enduro-X series’ Junior class title. And before the year was out, this 15-year-old had won 10 from 12 rounds – and the J4 title – at the Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC), plus he turned heads with his trials-like skills at the Wildwood Rock Extreme Enduro. Not bad for Higlett’s first year on the enduro scene!
In 2016, riding an FE350 and still just 16 years old, Higlett stepped up to the Transmoto EJ class (formerly “19 & Under” class) at the AORC, where he proved to be an immediate title contender, and finished a commendable third in the series. Then, when he rocked up at the A4DE at the end of the year and finished a very credible 18th Outright, it was more proof that this young bloke had a big off-road racing future ahead of him. But who is Fraser Higlett? Where’d the quietly spoken youngster come from? How’d he develop such incredible bike handling skills? And what does he aspire to, now that he’s got a taste of the podium on the national enduro stage? Ahead of this weekend’s season opener to the 2017 Yamaha AORC series, we caught up with Higlett for a chat.
TM: In racing circles, you only really appeared in 2015. What sort of riding and/or racing were you doing before that?
FH: Well, I’ve pretty much ridden my whole life, but I didn’t do much racing. I raced a bit of motocross here and there, but most of my riding has been in the bush. I do a bit of jet skiing and mountain biking – plus I ride my 110 for a bit of fun – but trailriding is what I’ve mainly done. I stump around a lot doing slow riding. So, looking back, that’s probably what helped give me the skills to race enduro.
Tell us about how you were ‘discovered” at that Enduro-X round in Queensland.
I dunno about be ‘discovered’ [laughs]. One of my friends was racing the local round of that Enduro-X Nats, so I thought I’d give it a go. I raced an old Husky 125cc two-stroke, and I did alright. Husqvarna’s John Hafey came up and introduced himself, and offered me a new FE250 to race the rest of the Enduro-X series and for the upcoming AORC season.
And within a month or so, you’d handed Husky an Enduro-X title.
Yeah, I feel pretty comfortable on big, technical obstacles, so that was good to be able to repay Husky so quickly for the faith they’d put in me. Jon let me ride Husqvarna’s two- and four-stroke models that year in various events, and that taught me a lot about how to get the most out of each model. But the major focus for me was the 2015 AORC because racing enduro was completely new to me.
Were you surprised to come into that competitive J4 Junior class at the AORC and win the title in your first year on the scene? In fact, you dominated it, winning 10 of the 12 rounds, the FE250.
I really didn’t know what to expect at the AORC. Yes, that was a big surprise. I didn’t really go into that season with any plan or pressure. I just raced the bike the same way I rode it in the bush at home, and it all worked out. It was pretty cool to win my first national title in my first year in the sport.
Were you equally as surprised last season when you stepped up the EJ class and immediately battled for podiums?
I knew more about what to expect – the tracks, the racing formats, the bike set-up. But I also knew there was going to be plenty of fast guys in the EJ class. I just focused on being consistent. I got on the podium six times from the 12 rounds, along with a few fouths, fifths and sixths. My worse place was an eighth and I didn’t have any DNFs, and that got me to equal second in the points, and third in the series after a count-back – behind Wil Ruprecht and Nic Tomlinson. For my first year in Seniors, I thought that level of consistency was decent. That said, I also crashed fairly consistently last season [laughs], which hurt my chances of doing better. I need to learn how the ride a bit smoother and eliminate those mistakes.
Husqvarna Enduro Race Team Manager, Christian Horwood, says you’ve got a lot of natural ability, but what would you say your strengths and weaknesses are as a rider?
I tend to go better on dusty, rocky tracks, mainly because that’s what I grew up riding in Queensland. I ride sand pretty well, too, but mud is full struggle-street for me [laughs]. Now I’ve got my driver’s licence, I do a lot of driving to ride a variety of tracks and improve my skills in all sorts of terrain – mud included.
What lessons did you take away from last season?
Being able to pit alongside the factory Husqvarna team allowed me to learn so much from experienced riders like Glenn Kearney and Lachy Stanford. Those guys really know what they’re doing. And I should be able to benefit from a similar ‘satellite’ set-up this season, with Christian Horwood stepping up as team manager. Basically, those guys have constantly drilled into me the fact that I don’t have to ride like a maniac all the time. I learned a lot about how to focus, where to slow down and minimise the likelihood of crashing; that sort of stuff. And it was cool to race on the same team as Christian and Zak Small at the Transmoto 6-Hour at Conondale last year. Aside from winning Outright, it was just such a fun event to be part of.
So why the Transmoto Enduro Junior class this season? Why not step straight up into a full-blown Pro class?
Because I’m only 17 and I’m inexperienced in a sport where experience is very important. Basically, I’m not yet ready to race the big boys. And I’m doing my final year at school this year, which means I’ll be busy. The Transmoto EJ class is such a good thing because it makes that transition between Junior and Pro classes that much easier, and it stops guys from dropping out of the sport altogether. It gives guys in my position the chance to fight for podiums and offer value to our sponsors, but we can also compare our times against the Pro class riders in the Outright results. It’s nice to have that stepping stone to develop your skills as an off-road racer without the full-on pressure of racing in a Pro class.
You did pretty damn well at the 4-Day last year, too.
I’d turned 17 in October, meaning I was old enough to race the 2016 A4DE in Victoria. Riding the FE250, I finished sixth in the E1 class and 18th Outright, which I was pretty happy with for my first 4-Day. I had raced a two-day enduro in Queensland beforehand, so I didn’t come into my first 4-Day completely blind.
What goals have you set for yourself this season? Is it all about winning the Transmoto EJ class?
That’s definitely the goal as I’ve put a lot of effort into my training and preparation for this season. I expect plenty of competition again this year, but I’m confident I can do well with the support I’ve got from Husqvarna and my other sponsors.
And beyond season 2017?
I really want to take one season at a time for the moment. After this year – which is my final year at school – I’ll get a better feel for where I’m at in the Outright standings, and make any decision to step up to a Pro class after that. I try not to get ahead of myself. But longer term, I’d really love to race the ISDE on an Australian team and the EnduroGP World Championship one day.
Good to talk, Fraser. And good luck this weekend at the AORC season opener in Victoria, mate.
Thanks a lot.