Features 6 Jun 2024

Countdown: Keeping track of AORC

Topics that you should be tracking halfway through season 2024.

The opening half of the 2024 Yamaha Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC) has delivered a mixture of captivating storylines that are unfolding across the main categories. As the series enters its traditional mid-season break, MotoOnline lists the topics you should be tracking in our latest Countdown feature.

Image: Foremost Media.

7. Dennett rises to the challenge:
Considering he only jumped up to the pro ranks at the start of the year, last year’s EJ champion Will Dennett has wasted little time coming to terms with the pace in the stacked E2 class. The ShopYamaha Off-Road Racing rider – who was promoted to the official team to effectively replace now-retired AORC outright/E2 number one Josh Green – has quickly adjusted to the new 2024 WR450F. As a result, he’s stood on the podium at all six rounds that have taken place so far. Dennett is quickly proving that he was what it takes to hang with the front-runners and there’s every indication that he will continue to keep featuring on the E2 podium this year.

6. New venues, familiar formats:
The Sprint test formats have dominated this year’s AORC so far, but we’re likely to see the return of the traditional Enduro format when the series returns after the break. It’s been positive to see some new venues added to this year’s series, with the season starting at Roma, then heading to Mount Misery in Victoria. The elevation changes, variety of terrain and the technical nature of the ‘mountain’ received positive reviews, but with the riders using the same track for two days of competition, conditions became really challenging towards the end of the final day. The racers were also provided an extra challenge at the dry, dusty Edenhope round, after it was decided that no scoop tyres were to be used. The sand was more akin to powder after an exceptionally dry summer/autumn, and combined with having to use conventional tyres, the E1 riders in particular struggled for power in the deep, loose conditions.

Image: Foremost Media.

5. Beta ups its game:
Beta continues to up its efforts this year with a selection of capable teams and riders on track in the AORC with official support. Beta continues to back Fraser Higlett, but has added Andy Wilksch (E2) and former motocross racer Jye Dickson (E3) to their ranks, as well as keeping EW racer Ebony Nielson under the tent. It’s been a great move, with Dickson charging to victory both days in the deep sand of Edenhope and is now within reach of the E3 title lead, while Wilksch is fourth in E2, despite finishing out of the points at round five with a rim lock issue in the second-to-last test.

4. E3 battle tightens up:
Until Edenhope, KTM rider Riley McGillivray had done everything right, winning both days of E3 racing at both Roma and Mount Misery, and building a solid points lead. But it all came unglued for him at Edenhope, when he crashed early in the opening test and tweaked his shoulder, then bike issues on the second day saw him borrow a bike to see him through sixth round. He finished the weekend with 5-9 results, while Dickson put in a perfect double-victory day to close the gap to just four markers. Meanwhile, experienced E3 rider Stefan Granquist is just another two points back, with four P2 results from six rounds. He’s pushed McGillivray on multiple occasions and is very eager to take that elusive E3 title – a victory that would be even more sweeter considering he’s racing as a full-on privateer this year, still onboard a Husqvarna.

3. Bacon reasserting his dominance:
After narrowly missing out of the E1 championship last year due to breaking his leg, ShopYamaha Off-Road Racing’s Kyron Bacon has a point to prove this year. The 2022 champ from Tasmania has claimed five of the six round wins so far this year, with the only trouble coming at round four, when he experienced a technical issue with the chain derailing. His nearest rival, GasGas-mounted Korey McMahon, was quick to capitalise and snatch that win. McMahon’s continued to be his trademark picture of consistency this year, and enters the second half of the season just seven points behind Bacon. There’s another factor to keep an eye on though, since KTM DM31 Racing Team’s AORC newcomer Tom Buxton continues to improve as each round passes under the mentorship of team leader Daniel Milner.

Image: Foremost Media.

2. A new star rises in EW:
This year is shaping up to be a potentially momentum-shifting season in the EW class, as eight-time AORC champion Jess Gardiner finds herself in one of the toughest battles she’s faced against her protege, Danielle McDonald. After winning the Junior Girls title last year, Yamaha JGR Ballard’s Off-Road Team rider McDonald is looking to set a new standard in the EW class, and currently leads the series at the halfway stage. Incredibly, the 16-year-old has won four of the six rounds, with Gardiner finding the top step twice. However, the experienced racer had a brake issue, then had a couple of crashes in Edenhope’s sand and finished third, and is now six points behind an on-fire McDonald.

1. Milner runs rampant, but pressure’s building:
Despite breaking his collarbone in a crash between the Roma and Mount Misery rounds, former champion Milner has enjoyed a dream return to the AORC this year. Racing within his own DM31 Racing Team operation with backing from KTM, Milner has simply dominated the E2 class so far, winning all six rounds outright on the all-new KTM 450 EXC-F. The 34-year-old’s success comes at a crucial time for KTM’s off-road presence, after the Austrian-owned group pared back their support for the AORC last year across all brands. At the same time, the resilience and determination of Motul Pirelli Sherco rider Jonte Reynders has been ultra impressive so far in 2024. Aside from a problem that forced him to DNF round three, Reynders has finished runner-up at every round, and has regularly kept Milner in his sights. The Tasmanian’s motivation to stop Milner’s win streak is extremely high and he’ll continue to push him to the final round.