MATTHEW HENDRY AND STAFF WRITERS
Motorsport is a tough and dangerous activity, but Tayla Relph has wanted to ride motorbikes since she was given her first Yamaha Pee Wee 50 motorbike when she was just three years old.
Relph is now a professional motorcycle racer and said it was out of the love she had for watching others race that she starting racing herself.
The young racer said it was due to her parents’ interest in bikes that she was able to go to race meets and events from a young age.
“Mum and Dad took me to a Crusty Demons race meet, and I have no brothers or sisters, or anything like that, so me personally getting into racing was out of pure love and passion for the sport,” she said.
Relph took part in her first motocross race at just six years old, and for the next few years she attended regular junior race meets.
But her professional career didn’t officially take off until 2012 she was 15, when she went overseas for the Red Bull Rookies Cup Selection Event in Spain.
“I still remember getting the news that I was going to be racing overseas and racing in Spain,” Relph recalled.
“It’s definitely big news to hear when you’re only 15 years old,” she said.
“I was actually travelling in the car to a race meet when I got the email, so me and my Mum – my Mum does all the travelling with me – we pulled over to the side of the road, and I pretty much just cried [from happiness] for about 10 minutes.”
Ralph said her first overseas race was a significant event in her career.
She said although she did not get chosen for the final championship, it was an honour to take part in the event against so many high standard riders.
“So the rookie selection, it’s not a race itself, but it’s a selection event to take part in their junior world championship, [and] six Australians were selected to compete against 150 of the best riders around the world,” Relph said.
Relph said going overseas to compete in that first international event was what made her realise it was possible to make it as a professional racer.
Then, in 2016, when she was 19 years old, she won her very first Australian Championship.
“I was competing on my Honda 250cc Moto3 bike, and not only did I win my first race, but I became the very first female to achieve that result in Australia,” Relph said.
Relph, who is now 22, plans to continue racing, but also has a backup plan.
She is about to finish a degree in journalism at Griffith University in Brisbane, and is keen to work in television in the future.
“The reason I came to Griffith University is because they have a really strong sporting college,” she said.
“They’ve been a really big help for me during my three years at uni, but I’m also lucky to have a Griffith Sports Excellence Scholarship as well.”
For now, Relph said her sights were set on competing in more international competitions and said she looked forward to many more years of racing ahead.
She said commitment was the key to enjoying a long career in any sport, and said motorsport was no different.
“For road racing, your professional career can last for as long as you’re willing to commit,” she explained.
However, Relph said motor racing was an expensive sport and one that came with a lot of risk.
“There’s the financial side of things that do stop people from racing, and there’s also the risk side of things,” Relph said.
“It’s very easy to crash and severely hurt yourself, which can lead to an instant end of your career.”
Relph said about four years ago financial difficulty had threatened to derail her racing career, when she began running low on the sponsorship money needed to fund her racing.
“About four years ago, my finances ran out when I was on a Moto3,” she said.
“The Moto3 was the bike that I was riding… it’s a Honda 250cc [class of bike].”
“You usually have to budget about 40 [or] 50 grand a year to race competitively, so I just couldn’t afford it anymore.”
Luckily, things turned around for Relph not long after that, when she was offered a new sponsorship with Northstar Yamaha.
“I was really lucky that a company came on board and wanted to really help me out, and the Yamaha R3 class was fairly new in the Australian Championship so they wanted me to be a part of it,” she said.
“The Yamaha R3 class is just a category class in the Australian Championship where the only brand of bikes that can compete in the class are other Yamaha R3s.”
“Without Northstar Yamaha and Dave Fuller’s support, I wouldn’t be racing today, so I’m really thankful for them for getting me into that championship again,” she said.
According to Relph, being a professional motorcycle racer is a job that involves a lot of travelling, including travelling overseas to compete in international championships.
Not surprisingly Relph said she felt like she spent a lot of her life travelling.
“I probably spend my whole life either in the car, on the plane, just on any form of transport really,” she said.
“Living in Queensland, we only have one race track for our national championship here, [and] most of our national championships are based in Victoria, and so most of my time is spent travelling to and from there.”
But, according to Relph, all the travelling was worth it.
Relph’s career highlights are many, but one stand out moment was a race in India in 2017.
“Probably the biggest race I’ve been a part of was the FIM Asia Cup of Road Racing held in India,” she said.
“That was an event where only two Australians were picked to go over,” Relph said.
“There were six nationalities in total that were competing in the event, two riders from each country,” she said.
“That was a real eye-opening experience for me.”
“The whole event itself [was eye-opening], there were probably well over 50,000 spectators, and the event was just the biggest championship I have ever raced in.”
This year, Relph said, her career took an unexpected turn, when she made the decision to join a different racing team and had some disappointing race results.
Relph said she joined the Kawasaki Australia supported team earlier this year, where she rode on a Kawasaki 400 bike, however it was not the year she had anticipated.
“I got the opportunity to race for a team [Kawasaki BC Performance] this year, but unfortunately it didn’t quite work out after the third round,” Relph said.
“My results were nowhere near as high up as what they should be this year, and that was also mentally hard for me to cope with,” she said.
Relph suffered multiple DNF (did not finish) results and tough rounds due to multiple crashes.
“So I made the really hard decision to leave after round three of the Australian Championship at Tailem Bend, and it definitely was a very hard decision to make,” she said.
“I had really gelled with the Yamaha R3 [motorbike], which I previously had raced for several years before jumping on the Kawasaki 400, and the R3 itself just suits my riding style, height and weight a lot more.”
Since then, Relph has reverted back to the Yamaha R3 bike, and said the Kawasaki was too difficult a change that she could not adapt to.
For someone so used to success, it was a tough period for Relph to get through.
“I raced for so many years in the Australian Championship consistently in the top five, and then when I did go to the other bike, my results diminished,” she said.
The experience also dented her confidence, but Relph said she was sure she would get back her top-five position, but explained it would take time.
“It will definitely take a while to get back to the results I know that I can achieve,” she said.
“So, it’s really hard, again, jumping back to a Yamaha now, a bike that I was so confident on, and a bike that I did get so many awesome results with.”
Despite the difficulties that her experiences this year have brought her, Relph said she planned to return to the Australian Championship next year, although she doesn’t currently have a full-time sponsor, so her return will be self funded.
She said her best was yet to come, and said it was a challenge she was looking forward to facing.
“It is a very special sport to be a part of,” she said.
As one of only a very small number of women racing professionally, not just in Australia, but in the world, Relph’s achievements and commitment to the sport are all the more impressive.
“There have been many female racers that have come and gone in the Australian Superbike Championship over the years and I am just one of the only females who have stuck around for that time,” she said.
“I don’t know why there are no females who ever stay in the championship for a long period of time, and I’m sure if we knew the answer to that, there would be more females in the sport.”
Last year, Relph was the only female to compete in every round of the Australian Championship.
“Knowing I am one of the only female road racers in Australia gives me a very warm feeling inside,” she said.
“I spend a lot of time as a mentor in promoting females in road racing on social media and just through general meet and greets at race meets, and it’s an eye opening experience when I meet very young girls who want to get into the sport.”