Features 13 Mar 2024

Q&A: Takeaways from Roma AORC

A closer look at the 2024 Australian Off-Road Championship opener.

The opening two rounds of the 2024 Yamaha Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC) took to the trail in outback Queensland over the weekend, and it unearthed some enthralling storylines to takeaway on Sunday afternoon. From returning legends, to emerging rookies and everything in between, the dusty, technical terrain gave MotoOnline plenty of topics to assess in this edition of Q&A.

Image: Foremost Media.

Q: Is Daniel Milner again the man to beat this year?

A: Any rider who fancied filling the boots of 2023 AORC number one Josh Green after he announced his retirement last year had their hopes dented at Roma. After two years racing EnduroGP, Daniel Milner has returned home and has only gotten quicker. On both days, the 34-year-old comfortably won the outright and smashed the rest of E2 class by more than a minute. Now under his own KTM DM31 Racing Team tent as part of a KTM-backed effort, the multi-time champion wasted no time launching to the top of the timesheets around the Roma tests, despite having a couple of tip-overs across the weekend. Afterwards, Milner fired a casual warning shot across the bow of the rest of the paddock when he said he wanted to ‘give the boys someone to chase and get the speed of Australian racers up’. Between Bacon and Motul Pirelli Sherco standout Jonte Reynders, in particular, you know they’ll be up for the challenge. Game on!

Q: How did the rookies, Will Dennett and Billy Hargy fare in their promotion to the senior ranks?

A: It’s always an interesting weekend for rookies when they first jump up to the top ranks, but to their credit, Dennett and Billy Hargy settled into their new classes nicely with some great speed across the weekend. ShopYamaha signing Dennett put in two classy, consistent rides to finish on the E2 class podium (third) both days, with the Queenslander feeling comfortable in Roma’s dust and rocks while effectively filling the shoes of Green on the new WR450F – not an easy task. Despite limited time on his new Husqvarna FE 501 and stepping up to the largest-capacity class, Hargy posted a confidence-inspiring fourth place on Saturday. With the nerves out of the way and having made some bike set-up improvements, the 18-year-old charged his way to an impressive E3 runner-up result on Sunday.

Image: Foremost Media.

Q: Where does the pace of E1 winner Kyron Bacon and E3 victor Riley McGillivray stack up in the outright standings?

A: While Milner was the talk of the pits with his scorching pace, ShopYamaha Off-Road Racing’s Kyron Bacon and KTM-supported Riley McGillivray also showed plenty of speed through the trees and dry riverbeds. The two in-form class favourites topped the E1 and E3 timesheets on both days, setting the standard to open the 2024 series. Bacon’s pace was good enough to finish the two rounds in P2 outright, but one minute behind Milner on the opening day, then narrowing that margin to 35.7s on Sunday. McGillivray’s pace on the 500 EXC-F saw him finish seventh and eighth in the unofficial outright rankings.

Q: Who’s this Tom Buxton riding for Milner’s team?

A: A surprise entry to this year’s championship is Tom Buxton, who’s contesting the E1 category with the KTM DM31 Racing Team. The 24-year-old Kiwi spent the past two years racing the EnduroGP championship with an Italian Sherco Team and during his European stint he met Milner, before both returned home at the end of the 2023 season. Milner has taken Buxton under his wing for this year, enabling him to continue racing internationally in an entirely new setting. Buxton impressed on his debut outing too, as nerves and arm-pump saw him finish P4 on Saturday, but he came out firing on Sunday and held down P2 until the last test of the day, when a fast-finishing Korey McMahon (GasGas) pipped him for the runner-up spot. Still, a podium was solid.

Image: Foremost Media.

Q: Does Danielle McDonald’s second-round win signal a changing of the guard in the EW class?

A: After cleaning up the Junior Girls’ championship last year, Yamaha JGR Ballard’s Off-Road Team rider Danielle McDonald has made the leap up to the EW class that her mentor Jess Gardiner has dominated for what seems like an eternity. As Gardiner rode to another comfortable win on Saturday, McDonald struggled with the janky tests, but still managed to cross the line in P3. Sunday saw a reinvigorated McDonald emerge and take control of the EW field from the outset, and despite a small crash on the final test she clung on to take a narrow 3.3s lead over a charging Gardiner, who had recovered from a major fall herself earlier in the day. It’s still too early in the season to say whether this has the makings of a season-long championship battle, but it’s great to see the young talent coming through and shaking up the senior classes.

Q: Who are looking like the main contenders in the EJ class?

A: With the likes of Dennett and Hargy bumping up to the pros, the door has been opened for a new wave of youngsters to stamp their authority on the EJ class. At Roma, bLU cRU-backed Jett Yarnold grabbed the opportunity with both hands, winning both days convincingly over Eli Tripcony (Husqvarna) and Oliver Paterno (Yamaha). Yarnold was a podium regular last year and has now put himself in the box seat to take command of the development class in 2024.