INTERVIEW Jessica Howden opens up with Palmen in Motorradsport

Jessica Howden
Jessica on the podium. Credit: WithU 511 Racing Team.

Italian version here.

We definitely know that motorcycle racing can give us some incredible stories, but some of them also have a symbolic value for how they happen and the story laying behind.

And here we are, telling about Jessica Howden. With just 19 years of age, the young South African left her home, family and friends to pursue a racing career in Europe, where she is taking part in Women’s European Cup with 100%-female WithU 511 Racing Team. The first chapter of this experience took place in Misano after a promising winter test programme and Jessica showed great pace by qualifying fifth and not far from pole position.

When the race came, however, events turned like nobody expected. Jessica immediately pushed hard on the slightly wet track to overtake her rivals and then she started her sweet escape to an astonishing first win for her and her team, which is also, as she stated before the podium ceremony, an example for all South African girls having her same dream. Moreover, Jessica achieved this as the first girl from her country to sign a contract in Europe as a professional rider.

Being indifferent in front of such story is impossible, and that’s why Palmen in Motorradsport reached out to Jessica Howden to interview her about her maiden win in Misano, and not only.

Jessica, did you expect such an amazing start into your new adventure?

Heading into the race weekend I was aiming for a podium, as I believed I could manage one. I did not expect to win, because Beatriz Neila Santos had a very good pace, but when I saw the conditions I thought “Maybe I can win, because I am good in the wet”. In any case, the conditions did help me, but  now I am also aiming for a dry win. 


Could you tell more about how you managed the race?

Immediately I thought to push to make a gap big enough to maintain my position, so that when the track dries I will be too far ahead for anyone to catch me. That was my plan, and it worked for me. 


Jessica Howden
On track. Credit: WithU 511 Racing Team.

What was on your mind during the first moments after the win?

At first, when I crossed the line I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked, but I was also extremely happy and I couldn’t wait to celebrate in parc ferme with my team, because they are most important.


What are your goals for the next races? 

Going into Misano my goal for the championship was to be in the top 3, and it is still my goal. I’ve never been to any of these tracks and the girls are very fast, so I just want to keep going in a positive way and keep getting as much points as possible.


You had your first race in Women’s European Cup last year, in Mugello. How was it? And how did it feel to race outside your home country for the first time?

My wildcard race in Mugello last year was difficult. I didn’t know what to expect going into it, but it helped me learning what to expect for a full season. I learned a lot from it about the other girls. It’s a good feeling to race for my country overseas, because not many of us can and I would love for another South African girl to join me. 


Could you now tell more about the start of your racing career? 

My dad used to take me to the track all the time when I was a little girl, because he raced cars. However, at the track I noticed motorbikes and I begged for one. He finally got me one and after I rode it, I immediately fell in love and now no one can take it away from me. In South Africa I raced a Ducati V2, so it has been difficult to come back to small bikes, because I need to get the style perfect for the small bikes to be fast both in the wet and dry.


Jessica Howden
Jessica on her Ducati V2. Taken from the rider’s Facebook profile.


Who is your favourite rider, and why?

My favorite rider in South Africa is a lady called Nicole Van Aswegen, because she is the reason I am so competitive. She was so fast and I pushed myself so hard to be like her. Besides that, overall my favorite rider would be Marc Márquez, because he shows the highs and lows of being a true champion.


Which motorsport championships do you follow?

I follow many motorsport championships. I mainly follow MotoGP, but also really enjoy watching Formula 1.


How hard is it for you to live in Italy and be far from your family?

To stay so far away from my friends and family is the hardest part, because they are the ones I want to celebrate with in my good times and then have for my bad times. However, I like living in Italy, because it’s the price I have to pay for the sport I love.


In conclusion, what’s your goal for your career? 

The goal for the future would be to win the Women’s European Cup and then I would like to move onto the bigger bikes championship, because I believe it suits my style of riding.


Palmen in Motorradsport is thankful to Jessica Howden for her kindness and wishes her all the best for 2022 and her career.