There are few countries in this world as barbaric and beautiful as Iceland. For every endless sunset and majestic iceberg, there’s a raging, boiling geyser — or a dangerously un-dormant volcano. It’s a similar story with stunt driving. One moment you could be cruising smoothly sideways in a beautiful drift; the next, barreling down a rough, unforgiving mountainside.
Jess Hawkins knows this contrast more than most. The young British racing and stunt driver has helmed cars for the James Bond franchise, currently competes in the hotly-contested W Series championship and is a proud ambassador for Land Rover — recently travelling to Iceland itself for a challenge that put the New Range Rover Sport through its petrol-powered paces.
“I’d never been to Iceland before,” Hawkins tells Gentleman’s Journal. “But I had heard a lot about the Blue Lagoon. Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to go there. We went to Sky Lagoon, which is a man made lagoon — but it was amazing and we had a really good time. That was the only free time we had, though, as the shoot was pretty demanding — as you can see by the results. But that’s often the case with these jobs!”
Demanding is an understatement. This job, as you can see in the video above, saw Hawkins tasked with completing an epic ascent of the Kárahnjúkar Dam, part of a hydroelectric power plant in eastern Iceland and the largest of its kind in the world.
After tackling a rocky ride across the valley floor, powering the New Range Rover Sport through a flooded riverbed and driving through the concrete tunnels of the dam, Hawkins arrived at the rocky dam wall itself. Then, the final 294-metre stretch of spillway presented the final ferocious challenge; a 40-degree route to the top with water cascading powerfully down it, providing the ultimate test of traction. So what did the stunt driver think the first time she saw it?
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” says Hawkins. “I obviously had an image in my head, but it was only when I saw it face-to-face that I realised how big it was and how difficult it was going to be. But I’d seen previous films, so it was obviously a huge honour to be chosen”.
The plan, on paper, was simple. Like the ascent of China’s Heaven Gate in 2018 (999 steps) to the first recorded crossing of the ‘Empty Quarter’ desert in the Arabian Peninsula, a combination of confidence, power and traction was the key to success. Hawkins would use the car’s new V8 Twin Turbo to motor to the summit of the spillway, contending with nerves, gravity and a torrent of water flowing at 750 tonnes per minute.
“And driving into it knowing that, at the bottom of that slope, a 90-metre drop was waiting behind me,” adds Hawkins, “I knew that nothing could go wrong. That made this the most challenging drive I’ve ever undertaken”.
Thankfully, the New Range Rover Sport was more than up to the task. Based on Land Rover’s advanced, flexible ‘Modular Longitudinal Architecture’ — which provides the perfect foundations for its superior dynamics and peerless refinement — the latest model to wear the ‘Sport’ name comes equipped with spillway-conquering ‘Dynamic Air Suspension’ and twin-valve active dampers to provide new levels of agility, control and composure.
“This was the most challenging drive I’ve ever undertaken…”
Hawkins, who knows more than most the importance of engaging and clicking with the car you’re driving, had to put her utmost trust in the New Range Rover Sport. But, after getting behind the wheel in Britain to prepare for the spillway stunt, she immediately felt comfortable.
“I had to have full belief in the safety team,” she continues, “and all of the people on the ground. But, of course, the car. We wouldn’t have achieved what we needed to achieve without the right vehicle — and without me feeling confident driving that vehicle. Many features in the car enabled me to carry out this stunt, but I really liked the all-wheel steering. Also, overall, I really loved the looks!”
Designed by Professor Gerry McGovern, Chief Creative Officer for Range Rover, the New Range Rover Sport was given a breath of new luxurious life when it launched earlier this year. Dynamic proportions accentuate its design with taut surfacing, a dynamic stance and that immediately recognisable profile. And, in the bold red colour of Hawkins’ model, the muscular proportions looked as poised and capable as ever.
Under the bonnet, the car can also rival the performance of top roadsters, delivering 0-60mph in as little as 4.3 seconds if you’ve got ‘Dynamic Launch’ engaged. And this was just one of the features that gave Hawkins peace of mind when getting into the driving seat. But she also sought the advice and help of a mind coach to prepare for the stunt.
“I think it’s very important,” says Hawkins of the decision. “Mainly because as much as it is important to be physically fit, I think it’s also important to be ‘mind fit’.”
And, just as Hawkins honed her concentration and tuned her mind, the New Range Rover Sport was also given some extras to ensure it was as offroad-ready as possible. A new ‘Stormer Handling Pack’ provided the ultimate combination of chassis technologies for the most dynamic and agile handling, with features including the ‘Dynamic Response Pro’ roll control system and ‘Electronic Active Differential with Torque Vectoring by Braking’.
The success of the stunt is yet another achievement for Hawkins; yet further proof that the 27-year-old is one of Britain’s most compelling motorsport prospects. And the driver is happy to be shifting gender representation in motoring into a new, more inclusive gear.
“There is obviously a massive movement at the moment,” she says. “It was a very male-dominated industry. And it’s great to be part of the change. We can hopefully help pave the way for younger talent, and make their route easier. That’s the goal.”
It’s a well-earned recognition that was reinforced when Hawkins got a call from the producers of the James Bond franchise. In last year’s No Time To Die, the stunt driver got behind the wheel of another car in the Land Rover garage — the New Defender — and chased Daniel Craig’s 007 across a river valley floor in a Norway-set chase sequence.
“I believe a friend of mine recommended me to the Stunt Coordinator, Lee Morrison,” recalls Hawkins of the once-in-a-lifetime job. “At the time, he was looking for a female stunt driver. So I went for an audition — and I got the job!”
Tearing across the wet Scandinavian wilderness for Bond proved oddly prescient — as Hawkins would soon take to the spillway in Iceland and tackle yet another spray-spattered stunt. Thankfully, with her unshakeable composure, world-beating skill and a car as capable as the New Range Rover Sport, she made short work of a seemingly insurmountable mission.
Want more from Range Rover? Here’s Range Rover’s Gerry McGovern on designing the fifth generation of an icon…
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