The current queen of Australian off road talks about all things racing as the AORC prepares to get back under way in the coming months.The majority of the current Australian racers would love to have a resume that reads like Jess Gardiner’s. Five time Australian Off Road champion, Multi time Australian Representative in the world championship winning Women’s team at the ISDE, raced internationally and runs her own team alongside partner and fellow racer, Jeremy Carpentier and junior talent Danielle Macdonald.
In addition to her success on the bike, she also works a day job as a heavy vehicle operator based in Penrith, west of Sydney. The 27 year old is a busy woman and while the Coronavirus might have slowed her in recent months, it never affected her dedication and motivation to keep pushing and challenging herself to be better.
With the AORC penciled in to reignite in August, Jess and her Yamaha team and now full steam ahead into a pre-season boot camp and preparing to hit rounds five and six of the championship at full throttle. She currently leads the women’s class again and is eyeing off her sixth national championship but knows championships don’t come easy and nothing is taken for granted. Carpentier sits inside the top five in the premier E2 division while Macdonald leads the Girls 85cc class.
How did you get started in dirt bikes and what drew you to racing?
My family all had dirt bikes and I was raised around weekends away camping with the bikes always in tow. I loved all sports really and did a lot of dancing. On the trips I had a little quad that I loved and begged my parents to move to SA so I could race them. They basically laughed at me and I was presented a little wheel YZ85 for my 12th birthday and enrolled int Penrith PCYC. From there I learnt the skills to be able to simply let the clutch out and be able to ride between the witch’s hats. From there it excelled really quickly, and I started racing club days of motocross to state titles. I was then asked to choose dancing or bikes as it was getting pretty expensive doing both. I choose the adrenaline of dirt bikes and haven’t looked back since. Really thankful to have had a super supportive and encouraging family to help me excel in what I found I loved doing the most!
Being a person who has always operating at 100 miles an hour, how have you dealt with the slow down of the world with Covid- 19?
It was a bit of a shock really! I bought a few more things for the gym so I could continue my after work winter fitness. I have been fortunate to still have been working 5days a week 7-5pm driving earth moving machinery.
Weekends consisted of hard training to start but when reality set in that we were off racing for approximately three months, so had to treat it as a second off season. We had fun rides enjoyed more camping weekends away at the farm with family. Build loads more tracks at the farm for coaching and our training.
We also got a lot of chores caught up around the house, in the shed.. you know all the little projects that get put on hold in a 100 mile an hour lifestyle!
You are three rounds into the 2020 AORC, anything you and the team have worked on or needed to improve for once we get things back under way?
We are always learning and evolving as a team. The team works really well together and will continue building the momentum. Our girl Danielle unfortunately had a broken elbow bone at the start of Covid, she is now back full swing and looking as strong as ever. Jeremy has a few things we are working to keep his training speed consistent into the race days. While I am working in bringing back my Mx skills and building that aggressiveness on the bike! I can’t give away too many secrets, but it’s been a great time to build on all aspects mid-season.
Both yourself and Jeremy have raced the WR250F and WR450F respectively over the last few seasons and both those models have been significantly updated recently. Has these updates been suited to you both and the Australian conditions?
Both models have been exceptional in the Australian conditions and even overseas (as Jeremy rode the WR450F in the World round last year). The bikes are so much lighter now and the new geometry of the chassis makes the bikes handle better. The bike is a bit narrower between your knees making it much easier to move around. The engine has a lot more power which we fine tune to each race condition. The availability to be able to access the bikes mapping on your mobile phone application has made it so much easier and faster to adjust your bike on the go.
Overall Yamaha has developed the perfect off-road motorcycle for all conditions!
This year you expanded the team and have now bought in Danielle Macdonald to develop and mentor, how did this come about and what do you see in Danielle?
Being a female role model in the sport and having learnt and been through so much in the motorcycle scene over the years the idea come about more than a year before I put the plan together. I’ve always wanted to be able to pass on my knowledge and experiences to help the younger generations. Jeremy was a huge motivator to help me put the program together as I was unsure how I could make it happen wanting it to be perfect! It was evident to us both that having developed the team and being a female myself that I would give back to the Junior girls of the sport.
It was tough to choose just one Junior girl for this opportunity although Danielle definitely shined out to me in the end. It was a tick of all boxes and I felt like I seen a mini me (how Geoff Ballard surely seen me early on). Danielle has a great family support, a lot of motivation and determination, eager to listen and learn, whilst being only 13 years old. There is potentially a lot of time to help develop her before her senior ranks and did I mention she can ride a dirt bike really well!
The final straw to making it happen was again the support from my amazing sponsors to help me make the program possible to put together. Everyone was excited to hear my plan and work with me to help!
How time consuming is it arranging deals for your team and keeping the whole show on the road?
If we averaged out the hours I spent on emails and phone calls organising and arranging it would be scary to think how I find the time between a full time job and racing myself. I love to organise and make things happen, so the job always gets done. Most my emails are done in the evenings after I’ve finished work and training sessions. I have developed an amazing support pool of sponsors whom most have been with me for many years.
I have developed not only ’sponsorships’ with these partners but valuable friendships. I work really well with all my sponsors and each and every one makes it easy for me to manage the team with the support that we require to go racing at a high standard with the best riders in the country and world! I honestly am so grateful for the opportunities and amazing people I have had the privilege of working with.
The AORC has grown over the past few years and has developed into a credible and worthy national championship, is there anything else you would like to see happen in off road racing in Australia?
The AORC has improved a lot in recent years and they now hold a world class event. Personally, I would love to see more spectators at the events and for the events to cater for that. We could be racing five minutes from town and nobody that lives there knows about it. If we had more advertising in the local areas that could be cool and build up the ambience a bit more. The only other thing that I could pick on is the timing. Although they are trying to make improvements this is an area that needs some dollars spent on and looked at for other solutions.
2020 will be the first time in a long time that you won’t be at the ISDE with the Covid- 19 restrictions. What is it about that event that makes it so special?
I’m pretty sure I nearly cried the day I found out we couldn’t race this event this year. With completely understand and respect to get the world recovery from this crazy, sudden virus. The ISDE is the best event of the year. Where all the Australia riders come together to fight against the best riders around the world wearing your Australian colours on your back. Nearly everyone follows the race so closely and you receive so much support from back home and around the world. The buzz you get when getting your country’s name on the podium and especially the top step, is a feeling that never gets old! Everyone works together in one of the most mentally and physically toughest 6 days straight, giving your everything as you don’t want to let anyone down!
What’s your most memorable event and why?
I must say I have so many memories from my motorcycle career, some terrible, some scary, some sad and many, many more amazing, unexplainable moments. So, to choose one particular event as my favourite is tough. Although one that would be up there would be the ISDE in Sardinia in 2013. Racing your motorcycle on a beautiful Italian island, in some very hard dusty conditions. To win the event Outright individually myself and with Team Australia winning the ladies event also was a huge bucket list tick for me. The goosebumps still come back every time I think of the moment on the top step proudly chanting the Australian Anthem with the other Aussies in the crowd and flying the flag high with relief of all the hard work and years of complete dedication to motorcycling for moments like this.
You were also doing some women’s rider coaching and weekend camp out style events prior to the virus, are you going to continue with them and what’s in store for the remainder of the season?
I have loved coaching not only the women but the boys as well. Unfortunately, during Covid we weren’t able to do any coaching due to all the restrictions. I am currently planning when Jeremy and I can add in some more coaching days around the race schedule, just waiting on some final added race dates due to the missed rounds.
I really look forward to coaching days as it is so rewarding to see the kids and adults so eager to learn and watching them improve over the weekend and sessions.
I definitely aspire to hold many more coaching and events in the future around my race calendar!