“When I look back and see what actually happened, I think someone must have been looking after me that day,” explains Mette B. Bjerknes, describing the time a 600kg highspeed craft landed on top of her own and she walked away unscathed. It’s not the sort of conversation you usually have over a 10am coffee in a regency townhouse in Cheltenham but this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the career of the Formula 2 powerboat pilot.
Our connection with the Norwegian turned-Gloucestershire resident came about when her race team JRM Racing, which she co-founded, put out a bid to local companies for sponsorship. Despite racing in international events at speeds of up to 190km/h, taking corners at 150 km/h under 5G G-force and operating in conditions F1 legend Niki Lauda compared to ‘driving a racing car over a freshly ploughed field’, Bjerknes is participating in a sport still relatively unknown in the mainstream.
Bjerknes has credibility in spades. The daughter of two former powerboat pilots and with 14 years racing experience of her own, she lives and breathes her sport. “It’s in my blood,” she says. “Since I was little, I was encouraged to push boundaries.” She is one of only two female drivers competing in the F2 World Championship and while an advocate for equality is also keen to point out it’s a level playing field. “You don’t need stamina to race, you need guts” she explains.
Her near-miss crash tale sheds just a shard of light on the adrenaline-fuelled world of powerboat racing. “You can’t really compare my race boat to a boat, it’s a mixture between a Formula 1 car and a jet plane – on water,” she reveals. “It takes about two hours to calm down after a race, you can still feel the vibrations.” It’s no wonder Bjerknes enjoys hiking and being in nature in her spare time, a product of her Norwegian roots and a way to connect back to them.
With two races – both in Portugal – left to go in the 2023 World Championships, Bjerknes is keen to maintain her current position of 6th which she set as a goal at the beginning of the season. While she is intensely competitive, she believes a respect for her fellow pilots, the elements and race conditions is also key. “I’ve seen what can happen – I worry more about what might happen to someone else than to myself” she notes.
Powerboat racing is a fascinating cocktail of high speed, high drama – pilots can be operating in limited visibility only centimetres apart – and multiple variables. While there is an international federation, individual races are organised by host countries meaning the sport is at the mercy of economic and political climates as well as atmospheric conditions. Bjerknes can recount examples of races cancelled due to floods, forest fires and the unexpected arrival of a whale.
For a self-funded team these kinds of setbacks can have a huge impact, but Bjerknes’ commitment and natural talent means she naturally attracts support. She has won sponsorship from brands including Motul, Bruvik Fine Timepieces and L’Oréal Professionnel. As with many of the most successful sports people, and despite her natural warmth and storytelling skills, Bjerknes is deeply modest. “I can talk about my sport forever – myself, no.”
ArtÓ is proud to be part of Bjerknes’ journey for the 2023 World Championships and is excited to see what’s next for both the pilot and her sport. When the season closes, she is looking forward to enjoying her hometown of Cheltenham, where she revels in the cultural hub and delights in discovering the surrounding countryside as well as exploring water sports opportunities across the Southwest. For now, the race circuit in Portugal beckons and we’ll be there in person to watch Bjerknes make her mark.