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Career

Meet Pip Thompson: New Zealand's fastest woman jet-sprinter

Mother, wife, customer services team leader... and jet-boat racing petrol-head.

During the week, Pip Thompson can usually be found tackling the tricky questions on roads, rubbish and rates from Napier's citizens. But at the weekend, she flies across the water.
"It's just amazing!" says a wide-eyed Pip, who is Napier City Council's customer services team leader, as she tries to find the right words to describe one of the loves of her life – jet sprint racing. As the fastest female jet sprinter in New Zealand, Pip (46) is quite the authority on zooming around a track at speeds upwards of 100km/h in an 850-horsepower boat.
"You can get from 0 to 100 in about two seconds," she explains. "The acceleration is incredible – I've been clocked doing 103km/h once before!"
Motorsport has always been an activity Pip enjoyed as a spectator, but it wasn't until she met her partner David (43) that she could picture herself behind the wheel of a powerful vehicle.
Pip (right), behind the wheel of a jet boat.
"We met online and really clicked because we both had two kids," she recalls, smiling. "It was around the time of our third date that he said, 'Let's go river boating!' and I was like, 'What the heck is that?' I had no idea. He picked me up and we went down to a river around Bulls. I was just hooked!"
As the couple's relationship progressed, so did their love for racing boats and watching jet sprinting. One day, Pip and David saw a hull up for sale and she knew they had to leap at the opportunity.
"I said, 'Life's too short, you don't know what's around the corner and it's something we can do as a family.'" David took the driver's seat for the first year, while Pip acted as navigator. But it wasn't long before she was itching to get behind the wheel.
In fact, she now competes against David in the Altherm NZ Jetsprint Championship's MouthFresh SuperBoat class – and she isn't just racing her partner, she's beating him too! In the standings, Pip currently sits in 10th position out of 16 drivers, while David is in 11th place. And that's no easy feat, she explains.
"All the good drivers finish within two seconds of each other, but even then it gets down to hundredths of a second. It can be frustrating!
"There is a bit of rivalry – both of us racing is a commentator's dream. David really cops it but he's also proud, which is really lovely. He is incredible. On race days, he's always there to help."But how does David feel about losing to Pip? "Well, at the end of the day, we are all one team," he tells.
"It's good to see all the boats doing well since I work on all of them. And the crowd really gets behind it!"
The couple's driving styles are very different, David says. While he is more brutal and one to "mash the pedal", Pip's driving style is smoother. "She listens to advice from people better than I do," he admits. "She applies that and then goes faster."
Pip agrees their racing is a team effort. "Dave does everything. He spends hours and hours working on our boats. I will admit I'm a bit of a princess when it comes to that stuff. I'm very spoiled."
But the female racer does say she's come quite the distance since first learning how to drive a boat, which "is the complete opposite to driving a car.
"At my first ever meeting in Whanganui, I could hardly reach reverse. And you don't have any brakes – you have to keep your foot down the entire time, otherwise you'll go flying off the track!"
Pip is currently ranked 10th in the SuperBoat class.
It's those little technicalities that are extremely important to get a handle on, she explains, as there is an obvious risk that comes with racing high-speed boats. Although, Pip points out, she has been very lucky so far.
"I've only had a couple of little crashes. But other people have ended upside-down in the water and that is probably the one thing that scares me.
"We are very safety conscious. The roll cages in our boats are designed that even if you power into a fence, the fence will hit the cage and not you. The rescue team can reach you in 10 seconds."
As one of only three female Kiwi drivers currently competing, Pip says women are steadily making a name for themselves in the sport and shares that she has recently taken more of an interest in female representation.
"Women are finally being given a chance to show people what they are capable of," she tells.
Both Pip and David will be in the sport for years yet, with Pip's two children, Oliver (16) and Leila (12), and David's two kids, Jakeb (16) and Millie (14), all showing an interest in racing boats. Oliver and Jakeb are the youngest racers in the sport right now.
"This is our thing," says Pip. "I've never known a sport like it – everyone looks after each other and gives advice." But most importantly?
"It keeps you young!" she laughs.

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