Guernsey has a thriving motorsports scene, with a full calendar of events. Two members of the Swoffers team – Local Market Negotiator Jess Bichard and General Administration Assistant Steph Best – talk about how they have pursued their love of cars and bikes on the island.
Anyone who has driven up the Val des Terres in St Peter Port or down to Petit Bot knows to keep their speed low with one foot on the brake. However, that’s not the case during the Hill Climb, where up to 100 cars, motorbikes and karts drastically exceed the island’s 35mph speed limit one by one, cheered on by family and friends.
One of these cars is driven by Swoffers’ own Jess Bichard. Having married into a racing family, Jess was supporting her husband, Matt, when she wondered what it would be like to have a go. ‘I thought it would be really good fun to take part myself, seeing as I was there all the time anyway. My sister-in-law ended up selling her race car to me, and I’ve now been doing it for three years.’
Steph Best was also influenced by her family’s love of motorsports. Her father raced motorbikes in his youth, as did his friends and their children. Steph was not an instant convert, however. ‘When I was younger, I used to dance, but I didn’t take it seriously and grew out of it. I wanted a something with a bit more pace. My parents were against me racing at first because they saw it as being too dangerous, but I knew it was something I wanted to do. I’ve been doing it for five years now, and my parents ended up buying me a bike.’
Jess recalls the first time she took part in the Hill Climb. ‘The only way I can explain it is if you’re lining up for a roller coaster and your palms are getting sweaty and you’ve got that intense feeling of nervous energy and excitement all at once. I’d say that I’m a good driver normally, but this is very different. I want to make sure I take the car home in one piece and more importantly, not break any bones. It can be quite scary at times.’
The Hill Climb is just one of the events organised by the local clubs. There is a sprint along Vazon coast road, whilst other disciplines – Motocross, Sand Racing and Autocross – make the most of the island’s beaches.
Steph races in the Motocross B group at Vazon, a bay which has a vast expanse of firm sand when the tide is out. Sand riding is a skill in itself, requiring a different technique to riding on any other surface. Steph can attest that you need to have a good level of fitness to compete. ‘I can just about finish a Motocross race, and I’m exhausted by the end of it,’ she says. ‘On the beach we only do five laps so we’re probably out there for four or five minutes. It might look easy just going around in a circle, but it is actually exercise. We’ve had up to 20 riders on the track and it’s quite narrow, especially on the infield when everyone’s switching and changing. It takes a lot of concentration to hold onto the bike – you’ve just got to hold on and hope for the best really.’
How far you take your chosen motorsport is up to you. Jess bought a new helmet when she started, but borrowed everything else from family and friends; now she is sponsored by her father and she has a brand new race suit. ‘Obviously you’ve got the general maintenance of your car, like you would with your normal road car. But you can then enhance it,’ she explains. ‘That said, you have to be careful; if you change the car too much, it could place you in a different category. We’re now looking at getting another car that I can hopefully perform a little bit better in after having the year off.’
Steph reveals that she tends to rebuild her motorbike each year, depending on how much racing she has done. ‘Luckily I’ve got a lot of friends who do it for me,’ she adds. ‘I know the general bits and bobs but when it comes to taking the bike apart and putting it back together I leave that to the experts. If I do something wrong, I don’t want the responsibility for that!’
Both car and bike racing are male-dominated sports. The number of women taking part in the Hill Climb has increased in recent years, but Steph is one of only four female sand racers. They both agree, however, that they have received nothing but support. Jess says: ‘There is an element of competition but if something goes wrong with your car, somebody will be running along with the toolbox to help you out – it’s just good camaraderie. Everyone has been really welcoming and actually pushing for more women to take part. It’s nice to see that it’s open to all.’
‘When I first started it was me and 16 boys,’ adds Steph. ‘It was intimidating at first but it was quite easy to slot in and I think they want as much support as they can because they know it will improve the sport for everyone.’
Both feel that their participation in motorsport has given them more confidence in themselves, which benefits them in all aspects of their lives – including work. ‘If I do something wrong there’s a commentator saying, “Oh she’s on the wrong side of the road”, so you do have to have that confidence about you to go for it anyway and make quick decisions,’ says Jess. ‘Because we live in a place that is very community focused, suddenly you’re in the paper, you’re on the website, spectators hear your name over the commentary.’
‘It has helped me to put myself out there more and increase my confidence,’ agrees Steph.
It also provides for interesting office conversation on a Monday morning. ‘It’s nice to have someone else you can chat about it with,’ says Steph. ‘It’s good to have a hobby in general, something that you’re doing outside of work aside from your normal socialising or what you’re doing with your family.’
If you would like to know more about the Guernsey Motor Racing & Car Club or would like to attend any of their events, click here https://gsymccc.co.uk/