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Milner headlines explosive line-up at 2024 AORC opener in Roma

The outback Queensland town of Roma will reverberate to the sights and sounds of the nation’s finest enduro talent on March 9-10 when it hosts the opening two rounds of the 2024 Yamaha Australian Off-Road Championship presented by MXstore (AORC).

With a massive 245 entries, Roma will mark the start of the 18th AORC season. Since its 2007 inception, an enormous number of superstars have competed in the AORC, including two-time Dakar Rally winner Toby Price; International Six-Day Enduro (ISDE) individual winners Daniel Sanders and Daniel Milner; four-time world enduro champion Stefan Merriman; multiple Finke Desert Race and Australasian Safari champion Ben Grabham – and many more.

Like the beginning of every AORC campaign, there is massive intrigue on who can seamlessly slip into a winning groove when the racing gets underway in Roma. And with a huge catalogue of men’s, women’s and junior classes, the competition will be fierce as the seasoned stars of enduro go into battle with the new wave of emerging talent.

Daniel Milner is back in Oz and out to reclaim his E2 crown

Milner is one of the evergreens in the paddock. In 2024, the Victorian returns to the AORC Championship after two difficult seasons in the Enduro World Championship. And he’s out to prove a point with a very ‘ungentle’ return: he’s straight back into the ultra-competitive E2 class with backing from his former AORC suitor, KTM.

Thirty riders will contest the E2 class in Roma and, while the returning multi-time champion Milner will undoubtedly be a towering presence, the 2024 roster is exceptional with the likes of Jonte Reynders (Sherco), Andrew Wilksch (Beta), 2023 junior champion Will Dennett (Yamaha), 2016 E2 champion Beau Ralston (Kawasaki) and former Australian ISDE representative Ben Kearns (Beta) waiting for him.

And there’s an international flavour thanks to French rider Toe Fugier (Sherco), who has also been an ISDE campaigner for his country.

Reynders, who was the in-form rider at the tail end of 2023, is shaping as Milner’s biggest threat as he embarks on a sixth year with Sherco. Whatever eventuates after 12 rounds – ending in Nowra on September 14-15 – there will be a new E2 champion crowned in 2024 following the retirement of reigning No. 1 Josh Green, who has remained in the AORC paddock as a course assessor.

Jonte Reynders in his final shakedown on the updated Sherco

And it’s a colossal battle on the manufacturer front in E2 as well, with nine brands in action making for a fascinating sub-plot.

Meanwhile, Cooper Sheidow (Yamaha), Riley McGillivray (KTM) and Jessica Gardiner (Yamaha) will begin their E1, E3 and EW (women’s) title defences in Roma, with all three classes following the ‘tipster’s nightmare’ narrative of E2.

Kyron Bacon (Yamaha) is the E1 favourite, though, with the Tasmanian consistently the fastest enduro rider in Australia over the last two seasons – and he impressed with a superb cameo in the world enduro title late last year. A mid-year injury in 2023 derailed Bacon’s AORC E1 defence, but he’ll be out for redemption in 2024.

Kyron Bacon is a superb enduro talent, and is eyeing a return to E1 glory

Korey McMahon (GASGAS), New Zealander Tom Buxton (KTM) and Will Price (Kawasaki) are also in the 11-rider Roma E1 mix, the latter making a gritty return after a big crash late last year. Buxton is riding under the Milner umbrella, with the Kiwi finishing 14th in the 2023 world enduro E3 title.

The E3 class features a plethora of new names, but the talent runs deep with riders like Jye Dickson (Beta), Patrick McGillivray (KTM), Luke Chella (KTM), Fraser Higlett (Beta) and Tom Vance (Sherco) all looking to make early dents in Riley McGillivray’s title defence.

The EW class is shaping as a real arm wrestle, too, with the multi-time-winning veteran Gardiner set to feel the heat from her teenage prodigy understudy, Danielle McDonald (Yamaha).

McDonald waltzed through the AORC junior girls’ class in 2023 before stunning the off-road world with a breakout performance at the ISDE in Argentina as part of the second-placed Australian women’s team.

The EJ junior class (16-U18) is a fertile ground for the nation’s next wave of stars, where Jett Yarnold (Yamaha) will fancy his chances after the two riders who finished in front of him last year – Dennett and Bill Hargy – have now moved on.

In the typical AORC way, though, the battles will be intense across all classes in Roma – 16 in total including more juniors, Masters and Veterans – with racing to be held over a ‘sprint’ format.

Entry is free for spectators on both days. The event location is Emoh Ruo Road, Euthulla.