Luke Styke’s Historic Trio Of Titles
Having endured a couple of injury-marred seasons with KTM’s factory MX team, it was just a year ago that 2013 Australian Motocross and Supercross Champion, Luke Styke, announced that he’d signed a deal with the Yamaha Active8 Yamalube Off-Road Racing Team, and would be switching ‘codes’ for the 2018 season. Making the transition from motocross to the off-road scene better than anybody since Toby Price in 2009, Styke won the E1 class at the first two Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC) rounds in commanding fashion. Shortly thereafter, he won the E1 class at the Cessnock Aussie 4-Day Enduro (A4DE), where he also ran an astounding fourth Outright! It came as little surprise that Styke had the speed to match it with Australia’s off-road elite, but the fact he’d displayed such consistency across a range of conditions and race formats sure caught a lot of people in off-road circles off-guard.
And when Styke followed through later in 2018 to clinch the AORC’s E1 title on debut (placing an impressive fifth Outright for the season), he became the first Australian ever to win a national motocross, supercross and enduro title – an achievement that, inexplicably, has received scant attention.
So we sat down with Luke Styke to reflect on his history-making trio of titles, and to get a feel for what the 27-year-old now has in his sights…
People forget you’ve won more than MX2 and SX2 titles. There was also that MXD class title win in 2009, and the odd close runner-up finish in a title chase, right?
Yeah, I won the MXD – or Under 19s class – title at the 2009 MX Nats, and the MX2/SX2 title double in 2013. In 2012, I actually had a 30-point lead in the series until I lost a bunch of points when my bike blew up in one moto and I got a flat tyre in the other. Coming into the final round that year, I was 30 points down on the leader, Ford Dale, and only lost the title by 2 points.
After winning the E1 class at the 4-Day last year, was it on your radar that you were the only Aussie to have won national MX, SX and Enduro titles?
It was. I think it was my Team Manager, AJ Roberts, who first mentioned it. I always followed the AORC and I knew that Toby Price had never won a national MX or SX title before he went on to win a bunch of AORC titles. Tye Simmonds is another top MX/SX guy who made a successful transition to off-road racing. He won the AORC’s E2 title a coupe of years back, but hadn’t won a national MX and SX title. So, yeah, I knew I was the first guy to do it, but that really wasn’t the driving force for me to do well in the off-road scene.
So you’re not a records kind of guy?
Not really. I’m the kind of guy who deals with what’s in front of him. I also want to have fun. And make money [laughs]. The reason I came over to the AORC in the first place was because I was a bit stale with MX, and because the off-road racing scene here in Oz looked like a lot of fun. The challenge of making the transition also made it fun for me. Like I said, I was aware of the three-title thing when I won my class at the 4-Day early last year, but setting a record wasn’t what motivated me. Plus, people were kind of right in saying that I really needed to win the AORC, not just the 4-Day, to legitimately claim I’d won all three titles.
Because the 4-Day is a one-off national event, while the AORC is a multiple-round national off-road championship, just like the Australian Motocross and Supercross Championships are.
How difficult was it for you to make the transition from MX to Off-Road?
At the top level of the sport in motocross and supercross, you learn a lot of bike handling skills that translate pretty well to off-road racing. That said, I knew that I had a lot to learn to be a complete package as an off-road racer, and I’ve always gauged myself off Chucky [Daniel Sanders] and Milner [Daniel Milner] in the Outright results. When I first came into the sport, they were well ahead of me. I had to remind myself that those two guys were world-class riders and they’ve proved that by winning their class or Outright at the ISDE [International Six Days Enduro]. I’m getting closer to them both now, but I need to work on my consistency and close that gap more often.
Do you think your off-road experience will make you a better motocross racer?
Yep, 100 percent I do. If I ever go back to the national motocross series, I definitely think the skills I’ve learned racing off-road will make me a much better motocrosser. In a motocross race, you can get in a bit of a trance because, with only 30 or 40 other guys on the track, it doesn’t change that much from lap to lap. Same with practice, which can get pretty repetitive. But with off-road racing, there are hundreds of other riders on the track, and conditions change massively from lap to lap. It’s constantly throwing new terrain and obstacles and challenges at you. And because the AORC’s Sprint-format races are six- or eight-minute laps, the intensity is actually higher than with motocross. With MX, it’s intense at the start, but then it’s more about managing yourself over the 20- and 30-minute moto.
Which discipline is more physically and mentally demanding?
That depends on the format. If you’re still talking a six-minute Sprint lap, us top guys are all athletes, so the AORC is not as physical, but it’s more mentally demanding. For the AORC’s longer Cross-Country or Enduro formats, though, off-road racing is definitely more demanding – both physically and mentally. If you make one tiny mistake and slam into a tree, you can easily lose 10 or 15 seconds, and with so much depth in the AORC these days, it can be tough to come back from that.
Your transition to off-road racing has been incredibly successful. You won two E1-class titles in 2018, and you’re now on top of the standings in this year’s stacked E1 class at the AORC. What’s next?
Of course, I want to win the E1 class again and have a good crack at the Hattah Desert Race, but I’m focused on improving my Outright position at the end of the AORC season. I ran fifth Outright in the 2018 AORC, and fourth Outright at the A4DE. So for 2019, I want to be a top-three Outright guy. I know the Outright is not an official thing for the AORC, but all us top guys are focused on it, and we use it to motivate ourselves and to strive to get better.
Finishing top-three Outright may also improve your chances of being selected on Australia’s ISDE team.
That’s right. And that’s another a personal goal for this year: to be the first Australian to represent my country at the Motocross of Nations and the ISDE. I raced that amazing three-speed Dixon YZ250F back at the 2012 MXoN, where I finished sixth in the MX2 class. Stefan Everts has raced the MXoN and ISDE for Belgium, and Zach Osborne has done it for America. Ryan Sipes has raced the ISDE for USA and MXoN for Puerto Rico, so maybe that doesn’t count. Anyway, it would be awesome to join that elite list of riders by representing Australia on both teams.
Do you think you’ve done enough to get the call-up to the Australian ISDE team this year?
I think so. The team needs a 250-class rider, and I’m the top guy in that E1 class here again this year. I’m only going to keep getting better, so I hope they put their faith in me this year.
All things going to plan, what does 2020 look like for you?
Well, Yamaha only ever does one-year deals, so who knows? I’d definitely like to be more active next year, and look at an arrangement where I can race the AORC and the MX Nats. We’ve now got a 14-week break in the AORC’s calendar, and that’s made worse by the recent cancellation of the 2019 A4DE, which was originally scheduled for early May. I work way too hard to sit around for 14 weeks, and I’ve got a young family to feed and a house to pay off. That said, I’m having lots of fun with my off-road racing and I’m looking forward to what ahead of me in the sport.