Resources 10 Oct 2017

Advice: Racing the clock

Off-road champion Daniel Milner on competing in timed races.

2017 Yamaha Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC) winner Daniel Milner has made a career out of contesting off-road events on both a domestic and world stage. A large part of these events includes timed sprints where competitors race against the clock and rarely come in contact with their nearest rivals. For this latest edition of Advice, checked in with the KTM Enduro Racing Team rider to pick his brain on the most important elements needed to ensure success in these challenging races.

Image: John Pearson.

1. Walking the track:
It’s a lot about memory for us because our tracks are 15 minutes long on a bike, in comparison to motocross where it’s usually under three minutes, a pretty short circuit. In motocross you also get a sighting lap or practice, where you can get a good look at the track. We just go straight into it, we don’t get a sighting lap or anything, we just start the race and hold on. I think the more you know about the track, the easier it is for you. The thing is, we walk the track and then go sit in the car and you can’t even remember. You remember I guess the important parts where there’s a log or something you could hit, but I always sit in the car and think what the hell did I just walk? But for some reason, as soon as you get back on the bike and get to that part, you remember it and it does work out.

2. The mental game:
You’re thinking about if they’re catching you or if you’re gapping people because obviously we don’t know. We’re starting 15 seconds apart from one another, so all you’re worrying about is getting that clean lap and those clean lines that you’ve walked and you’ve seen. You want to take those lines that you know will be quicker and just get a clean lap out and make sure you don’t make any mistakes. If you push too hard it ends up wrecking your time, and the guys that have been in the Super Pole in motocross would know this. Definitely with the whole time thing, you don’t think about the time, you just worry about getting a clean lap through. There are also certain points on the track where you can see other riders and kind of gauge if you’re gapping them or if they’re catching you. That plays a big part in your mental strength because if you know they’re catching you and you push harder, you’ll make more mistakes and you can lose more time. But it can also be the opposite where if you’ve gapped them and you know that you’ve put a bit of time on them, you seem to relax and not make as many mistakes.

3. Glimpses of competition:
Some days I love seeing them and I love seeing if they’re right there, if they are catching me then I need to push harder. But I guess it’s just what you’re feeling on the day and some days I guess I’d just rather be out there riding on my own. I think for me I’d rather see where they are so then I know if I need to push harder or stay at the same pace and make sure I get there smoothly. But I know especially with the younger generation coming through, they kind of get flustered when they see others catching them. They push harder and that’s when they end up making mistakes – I think it’s all just pressure and who can handle pressure the most.

Image: John Pearson.

4. Experience and maturity:
From when I was younger to where I am now, I know I’m a lot less stressed out and I don’t feel the pressure anywhere near what I used to when I was young. I can still remember there was a national years ago when I was 18-years-old or so, it was when Toby [Price] was winning everything in the off-road scene. We went into the first test of the day and I won it by a pretty good buffer and I was all-confident with it. Then in the next one I had to take off first, so I was feeling the pressure and I was around six corners from the finish and I crashed and got stuck under my bike and ended up losing a stupid amount of time. I just went backwards from there, I’m not sure if it just crushed me, but at the end of the day I finished sixth. So I think that maturity helps a lot with races now, if I ever get myself into that position, I know not to push out of your reach.

5. Risk factor:
Obviously the risk of going down and getting run over is huge in motocross. But with us, I feel like if I crash, it’s all on the time. So for me the longer I stay down, the more time I’m losing and I know when I go down, I get up stupid fast all the time. If my body is all-good, I get up ridiculously fast to get back onto that bike. It’s awesome for me having the KTM with electric start in those situations because it always fires for me straight away, I just jump back on and get going as fast as I can. It’s different racing motocross or around other riders where you have more of that problem where if you do go down, you’ve got a pretty solid risk of getting cleaned out by someone behind you. In off-road timed races, you never have someone behind you, so you’re never having to worry about them hitting you.

6. Training program:
Obviously our races are so different where it’s just a hot lap where you go from around 10-15 minutes, so you smash out a test as hard as you can and then you come in and sit. So obviously the sprints are higher intensity compared to the three-hour endurance rounds and I’ve always been a lot stronger in the sprints. Going over to America and racing the GNCC (Grand National Cross Country), I know think I’m strong in both of them. I do more motos for training, 30 minutes motos at a high intensity so you kind of get a bit of both – you get endurance and the high intensity. Some days we also go to a tight test track and just go out and do 20 one-lap sprints, but you’ll mix it up too. We’ll do a 20-minute moto to get going and then punch some sprints out to get that high intensity in.