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W Series Racing driver, Bond Stunt driver and World Record Holder for fastest lawnmower rider.
We first met Jess at Land Rover’s driving experience centre in the Malvern Hills (she’s an ambassador with Land Rover) and knew we wanted her on our team too. She embodies all we pride ourselves on at EB; driven (no pun intended) enthusiastic, willing to just get stuck in and is always striving for better.
We got to grab some time with her before she lines up on the grid of the BTCC this weekend.
How long have you been behind the wheel?
“I’ve always been a sporty kid, and was playing golf with my Dad at Sanddown Park when I was around 8 years old, and I could see a kart track in the distance, so I asked to go and see what it was all about. Luckily for my Dad, I was way under the height restriction to get in and drive that day, but I kept pestering him to take me back - “Come on Dad, I’m sure I’ve grown an inch”. He caved and took me back a couple of months late. I hadn’t grown much, but they had moved the height restrictions down so I could drive. That was that, I fell in love with it straight away and that’s how it all began really. I gave up all my other sports as I used to play football for Reading and just dedicated everything to karting.”
Fast forward to this weekend, how did you get to being the only girl on the grid for the British Tour Car Championships?
“I’ve definitely not taken the most conventional route to being in a touring car. I’ve always struggled to find sponsorship and the backing to make it as far as I would like, but I did have some great success at a younger age. I won the British Karting Championship when I was 12 and have multiple championships under my belt, including some high level European races. I made my transition into cars and that’s when all the budget restrictions came into play, managed a few starts over the next 5 or 6 years which was frustrating. But I got to race a whole season in Mini Challenge - I only had the money to race the first 3 starts, but won the first 3 races which meant I found backing to finish the season and finished 2nd in the Championship. However the following season’s budget was ridiculous and I couldn’t continue to compete.
Around this time a friend tagged me in a Facebook post, an ad, looking for a female driver with good car control, that could drift, doughnut etc. I didn’t really know what it was about, but thought ‘what the hell, I’ll apply’. I basically said I could do all the stunt stuff (that I had never done before) so blagged my way to the interview, found a place in Ireland who in a couple of hours of basic taught me doughnut and drift the day before my audition. They had flown loads of other female drivers in to do the audition, at which point I started to realise that this must be quite a big thing. I must have totally fluked the interview as I got the job, which was to be a stunt driver for the Fast and Furious Live Arena tours across Europe! I had three months intensive training, they taught me everything I needed to know about drifting, stunts, precision driving etc. This has then opened the doors to stunt driving in movies such as the new James Bond and others.
It’s only been really recent that I’ve been back involved in racing through W series, who gave me the opportunity to go racing again which was a fantastic experience, but my heart has always been for British Touring Cars, that’s what I’ve worked for and where I’ve wanted to be so I can’t actually believe I’ve got this opportunity to race in the BTCC this weekend.”
How do you train for a race like this?
“I recently developed and made my own simulator to train in as they are just so expensive. My friend and I made the frame, got the right equipment such as steering blocks etc and it’s amazing to use and probably cost me an eighth of the price if I’d have bought it off the shelf. So I spend a lot of time on that. I don’t think people outside of motorsport realise how fit you actually need to be to drive competitively, we carry so many G and put a tonne of strain on your neck and arms. I have to train hard in endurance because if I fatigue over a race that will hinder my performance.”
Motor Racing is stereotypically a ‘Mans World’, how do you cope in that environment and do you think you’ve been held back because you’re a woman?
“Do you know what, there are many different stories about how women are treated in motor sports, but never really felt like I’m the only girl or that I’m being victimised for being a woman. It may be been a little bit harder to be taken seriously, but I’ve never felt like I’ve not been offered the opportunity. Motor sport is a money game and that’s where I feel like I’ve lost 90% of the time, but when I do get the opportunities, I show up and get the job done. It would probably get harder for a women the closer you get to F1 but that’s never been my dream, my dream has always been British Touring Car.”
How are you feeling about your races on Sunday?
“Genuinely, I can’t believe it’s happening. I’ve knocked on that door so many times, had potential drives but I’ve never managed to find the sponsorship to do it or it’s fallen through somehow. I’m not expecting to win the race, as the field is so experienced and competitive, but as long as I’m somewhere in the mix, I don’t bring the car back in a ball of flames or million pieces and I do the best I can do, I’ll be very pleased. What I’d love is for Sunday’s races is to springboard me into enough sponsorship to get a full season in the car and the championship next year.
The BTCC is being televised on ITV4 this Sunday and Jess is racing at 1037, 1307 and 1554. We can’t wait to see how she gets on.