James Cooking up a storm in Charters Towers

The first day of the 2023 Polaris Motorsport Australia Off Road Championship (AORC) season has been completed with an unlikely crew leading the Markwell Group Gold City 450.

After one section, reigning SXS Pro champions James Cook and Mitch Aucote currently occupy top spot  after a brilliant opening three laps of the challenging Charters Towers.

Just one minute behind them at the end of the first section was Travis Robinson and Andrew Pinto, while defending AORC champions Ryan Taylor and Kye Floyd sit a further 20 seconds off in third.

Both pro buggy pilots were quite impressive throughout the opening day of the season, with Robinson securing pole position in what was his first outing in five years.

Photos: DJH Creative

Taylor on the other hand overcame electrical issues in Prologue to post the third fastest time on the opening section as he looks to build on his title defence.

However the day belonged to Cook, who climbed from third in Prologue to the top of the standings having posted the fastest times on all three of the day’s laps.

“It’s an amazing feeling. I am sort of pinching myself and I can’t believe that we’re in this position,” Cook said.

“We drove hard and smart; didn’t push too hard through the rocky sections, but pushed where we had to, so I think we’re in a great spot. It’s unreal.

“I think it felt like we were actually going fastest during our first and second lap, but we got quicker as the race went on. I seem to be like that as a driver

“It’s pretty physical, a lot of corners, a lot of things you got to look out for like rocks, but we’re all on the same track and there’s some advantages to having a SXS, but there’s also some having the buggy.

“Mitch is also doing a great job and never really gets it wrong, as well as the rest of the team who are doing their thing with the mechanical side of it.

“We’re going to keep trying tomorrow. We might just keep pushing it to see if we can stay there because it wouldn’t be a bad trophy to hang on the wall.”

Cook wasn’t the only SXS pilot to have a solid day behind the wheel, with Christian Rich and Glen Ackroyd making up the top five.

Sitting in fourth place after starting 13th was Rich and navigator Nathan Mortimer, while Ackroyd and Michael Price managed to sneak into fifth after going eight seconds faster than Tom Swinglehurst on the final lap.

Debuting his new pro buggy, Swinglehurst and co-driver Kate Swinglehurst showed plenty of promise on each lap, but had to overcome some teething issues.

Less than one minute separated the rest of the day’s outright top 10 with Prolite leaders Ally Howells and Sarah Corrigan ahead in seventh.

Glenn Brinkman and Dale Moscatt edged out fellow SXS pilots James and Michael Mogford by four seconds to seal eighth place, while local driver Chris Sollitt rounded out the top 10.

The opening day of the season unfortunately saw plenty of heartbreak, most notably Josh Howells, who qualified fourth but lasted just 100 metres into section one.

Kent Battle also had a tough opening section – the Townsville local finishing second fastest in Prologue before hitting a tree 40km into the opening lap.

Other high profile casualties were Jake Swinglehurst and Garry Turnbull, Nick Commins and Simon Evans.

Click here to view the full results. 

The Markwell Group Gold City 450 continues tomorrow at 7:30am AEST with a further six laps remaining.