Meet Europe’s King of Extreme Off-Road Racing

Jim Marsden is a top extreme off-road racing driver in Europe and the front man for Gigglepin Racing. Enjoying a career spanning over 20 years, he has more than 80 titles and 100 plus podiums to his name.

As the defending Ultra4 European Champion, Jim is taking on some of the toughest challenges in Europe this season, competing in Poland, France, Portugal, Bosnia, Croatia and Great Britain.

We caught up with him to find out what fuels his passion for adventure, what drives him to stay at the top of his game and why he always relies on ODYSSEY® batteries from EnerSys® to power his team through every race.

How would you describe Ultra4 racing? 

Ultra4 racing arrived in 2007 when 13 friends raced the Hammer Trails in Johnson Valley, California. It was the first “King of the Hammers” and it spawned a type of racing the world had never seen before.

In recent years, Ultra4 has grown massively and there are now races all over the world, with people building specific vehicles for this type of racing. These vehicles must be fast enough to hit speeds of over 100 mph, whilst being so agile that they can cope with driving over mountains, as well as through forests, deserts, swamps and jungles.

The vehicles used in Ultra4 have to be safe and must conform to a specialist rule book. Almost every car is different with innovation being a key component. They’re incredible to watch and unbelievable to drive. Ultra4 is a motorsport like no other.

What do you enjoy most about extreme off-road racing?

It’s the people I get to interact with along the way. It doesn’t matter where you travel in the world, the enthusiasm for off-road motorsport, especially the extreme variety, is infectious. Whatever the time of day, or however crazy the location is, there’s always someone to cheer you on.

Then, back in the bivouac when the chips are down and there is literally only one wheel left on your wagon, it’s your team, your friends and quite often random passers-by, who dive in and get the work done, so you can be back on the start line. It’s these experiences, and meeting people who smile and laugh in the face of adversity, that have kept me racing for over 20 years.

Where does your thirst for adventure come from?  

I grew up in a sleepy village in South East England, where Land Rovers, fishing and target shooting filled my days. After a chance meeting in 1999, and a drive to Bosnia in an aid convoy, I fell in love with travel and never looked back. Within 12 months, I found myself behind the wheel of a Land Rover with a roll cage and a winch, racing international challenge events across Europe.

How did you first get into off-road racing?

Living in a village community, Land Rovers and driving in the countryside go hand in hand. Both my uncles had Land Rovers and my first car was…you guessed it, a Land Rover!

This 1969 beast was my companion for many local adventures, until one day the gear lever fell off. My mate, Simon, kindly towed me home, going up hills faster than I could drive them, and I knew I needed something with more go-go. So, a newer Land Rover arrived on my parents’ driveway and adventures started to become longer and further from home. There was plenty of off-roading action and we all thought we were heroes at the time. Back then, I had no idea that those crazy days would lead to where I am now.

What’s been your most memorable race so far?

I often get asked this question, and with a career that spans more than two decades, there have been so many memorable moments. Just a few of the highlights include:

  • Winning the Muddy Truckers Trophy in 2005, beating the elite in the UK and firmly establishing Gigglepin Racing as a competitive force.
  • Receiving my first Croatia Trophy in 2005 and seeing the mine fields and the forests driving the race car across Europe over eight days and then driving home again.
  • Competing in my first race in Portugal in 2007. I can vividly recall the huge crowds, the heat, the waiting (nobody does waiting like the Portuguese), the wine and the celebrations.
  • Winning the Croatia Trophy in 2011 with Aussie Legend Wayne Smith, competing on the largest field in the event’s history.
  • Winning our first Breslau Rallye title as part of a German race team.

More recently, it’s been winning Ultra4 Championships, securing three Croatia Trophy titles and sharing adventures with my family. 

What’s been the biggest challenge in your racing career?

That’s a tough one. It would be easy to pick an epic on-track moment, but I think it’s actually a combination of balancing family, work and racing. Sometimes that balancing act is tricky but surrounding yourself with great people makes the world a better place. I’m blessed to have met many great people on my travels who make that so much easier.

What’s the secret to keeping on top of your game? 

Hard work…it really is that simple. Sacrifice is also important and when most of my friends and family are watching TV or out with friends, we’re putting in the hours in the workshop to make sure everything is 100%.

We have team weekends, where the guys jet in from across Europe to work on the race cars, the spares packages and tow cars. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a whole load of fun and the smiles and laughter are infectious, but motorsport is tough and extreme off-road motorsport is another level of difficulty. Often, the smallest item can ruin your day and that’s why we must work so hard and take so much time to make sure that every tiny part is perfect. It’s this commitment to hard work in the background that brings us continued success. 

How important is teamwork in extreme off-road racing?

Teamwork is everywhere in what we do. It starts with the race car. On its own, it’s useless, add a driver and co-driver, then you have a team.

Now, I’m not the best driver on the circuit but I’m very good at getting the best from my car, my co-driver and myself, as well as creating a team. We also rely on a team in the pits and the workshop, and we can’t forget our catering division, who are probably the most important team of all!

How do you celebrate a win?

Well that really does depend on where we are. In Europe, it usually involves a big party, lots of food, laughter, a few drinks and plenty of dancing.

In the UK, it’s usually a hasty burger at a service station before heading home…unless you’re lucky enough to win an award at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which I did last year. Receiving an award from the Duke and Duchess of Richmond is very special indeed, so we celebrated that win with champagne and canapes on the lawn in front of the big house, sharing the moment with some of the world’s greats.

Congratulations on your award at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. How did it feel to be recognised for your contribution to extreme motorsport? 

Goodwood is another world and to have off-road racing celebrated and accepted alongside mainstream motorsports is awesome. To receive an award from the Duke of Richmond himself, and stand on the same stage as Jensen Button, Sebastian Vettel and Travis Pastrana, is mind boggling and humbling. We’ve come a long way on this journey and I’m super proud to represent our sport at this level.

What are your ambitions for Gigglepin in 2024? 

We still have so much driving ambition that it’s hard to know where to focus. So, let’s start at the beginning. We’ve entered the Ultra4 South European Championship this year, which is a first for us. We’ll be racing four rounds in France and Portugal, and this is one we’d love to win.

Then, we’re off to Poland for the 30th anniversary of the Breslau Rallye. That will be very special, we’re taking Bad Penny and going back to our roots in the Extreme class. We’ll be battling the best European Trophy Raid teams for that 30th anniversary title.

We’re also heading back to Bosnia and Croatia, driving through those incredible forests. While these are new events for us, we’re familiar with that type of terrain and we’re expecting fireworks with five days of hardcore action at each event. The new generation of racers will be bringing new ideas and new vehicles, so we’ll have to be on top form to get on the podium.

Then, things get serious with The Rainforest Challenge Malaysia, which is the stuff of legends. Despite having qualified for the grand finals in the past, we haven’t been able to make the pilgrimage to Malaysia until now. Planning is well under way, and it will be so cool to line up next to world’s best, then go racing for 10 days through the jungle.

If that doesn’t sound crazy enough, we’re also looking at sending our other car to the USA to race King of the Hammers in February 2025. Pure madness!

So, the ambition is really to make it all happen and get those stars aligned as we try to make history by being the first team to race all these events in a 12-month period and hopefully get on the podium. Is it crazy? Of course it is, but with this team, anything is possible, and I really do believe we can do something very special.

We hear you’re gaining a strong reputation as a race commentator in the USA. Which prestigious race events have you been involved in and how did your role as a host come about?

Now this is a funny story. Back in 2015, I was hanging out in California at King of the Hammers when the race owner and promoter, Dave Cole, said, “Hey Jim, do me a favour, during the main race, can you dive on stage and give an interview to the live show hosts to describe what it’s like to race KOH?”

Well, I’d never done anything like that before, so I wandered to the stage, feeling very nervous as I looked out over the 1,500 strong crowd. The show was taking a commercial break as I was ushered onto the stage. Then, to my horror, the live show host took off his microphone and headset, swiftly attached them to me, announced he felt sick and ran off stage!

So, I was left on the stage, on my own, with absolutely no idea what was happening. Then, a calming Canadian voice came through the headphones, saying: “Hey this is Tim, I’m the producer of the show and I’m sitting in the production office round the back.” I said: “Ok, but you’ve got the wrong guy.”

Tim was having none of it and reassured me everything would be fine. He said: “Jim, in about 20 seconds we’re going to be coming back from the commercial flow” (which is posh Canadian speak for ad break). He insisted: “I want you to introduce yourself to our audience and introduce the race. I then want you to throw it down to Miles Hasselquist who is in the pits with Shannon Campbell.” Before I had the chance to say anything, he was back in my ear…“3, 2, 1, and go Jim, you’re live!”

It was crazy but I took a big breath, held the mic to my mouth and read the text on the KOH’s logo: “Welcome to the 2015 Nitto Tires King of the Hammers. I’m Jim Marsden and you join us here in Johnson Valley for the greatest one-day off-road race in the world. Miles Hasselquist is our man in the pits and right now he is down there with two-time KOH Champ, Shannon Campbell. Go Miles!”

I was shaking like a leaf, but I’d done it, and I ended up staying on stage for a further four hours that day. I realised I’d found something I truly loved and apparently, I’m pretty good at it too! I’ve now worked my way up to the top tier and I’m very proud to lead the live shows at KOH, The Mint 400 and the Ultra National Championships in the USA.

Finally, tell us why you choose ODYSSEY® batteries to power the Gigglepin team through every race?

Finally, an easy question! I was first introduced to ODYSSEY® batteries back in 2002 and I was sceptical at first, as they were more expensive than a standard battery and money was tight. However, it didn’t take long for me to realise just how good these batteries are, especially for off-road racing.

As my racing career flourished, new cars were built but the one constant was always having ODYSSEY® batteries on board and they’ve never let us down. We’ve experienced failed alternators, which meant we had to drive for miles with nothing other than battery power to keep us going. We’ve also seen trees and rocks literally destroying batteries, and despite being split in half or holed, ODYSSEY® batteries have continued to supply power to allow us to finish racing. I have so many memories of races we ended up winning, which simply wouldn’t have been possible without ODYSSEY® batteries.

What ODYSSEY® batteries do better than any other battery is provide constant 12.4v power throughout their charging cycle. This stable power supply keeps our systems working flawlessly and it’s that often over-looked element that is the true secret weapon. It’s the incredible durability and long life of an ODYSSEY® battery that makes the brand the best in the business so thank you for the years of faultless race winning service.

To follow the latest ODYSSEY® battery news, visit our website at or connect with us on InstagramTwitter, and Facebook by using the hashtag #MYODYSSEY.


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