Features 27 Mar 2024

Profiled: Danielle McDonald

Teenage sensation making waves in her rookie senior year.

Considering she’s only just stepped up to the senior off-road and motocross ranks this year, 16-year-old Danielle McDonald has certainly caused a stir already.

The young Yamaha JGR Ballard’s Off-Road Team rider has enjoyed a promising start to her rookie year, edging out her mentor and dominant off-road racer Jess Gardiner for a round win at the Yamaha Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC) at Roma, then finishing on the Penrite ProMX MXW podium at Wonthaggi a week later.

The oldest of three siblings, Danielle first started riding at the age of two on a PW50 at her 40-hectare family farm near Parkes in central New South Wales. Soon afterward, she took part in her first motocross race at the local Condobolin track and was quickly hooked.

Off-road racing followed when she was a bit older, and with the advice from a local Condobolin farmer, she started getting some training as she found she was at home in the bush.

Image: Foremost Media.

“She was catching all the boys, and we had to ask if she could jump ahead of them,” says her dad, Jason. “We then got her some training and it progressed from there and it’s just kept morphing.”

When the Junior Girls (JG) were introduced to the AORC in 2019, Danielle became a regular on the circuit, and she quickly fell in love with the scene.

“I love the AORC,” she enthused. “It’s a really great community and I’ve really enjoyed racing it.”

McDonald cleaned up the JG class in 2020, 2022 and 2023, and also tried her hand at the 2022 ProMX MX3 class at Mackay, which was held on the same weekend as the AORC.

It was the 2023 International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) in Argentina where Danielle really began showing her true calibre, when she finished second outright in the Women’s class and played a huge role in helping Australia finish second overall, despite losing one of her experienced teammates in Tayla Jones on the fourth day.

The entire event was brutal – Danielle had to push through temperatures that nudged the high 40s on demanding tests, steadily improving and gaining confidence as each day passed, before coming within a whisker of winning the final Women’s moto.

Image: Foremost Media.

“After we lost Tayla, we didn’t expect to finish on the podium, but every other team lost a rider too, so it actually worked out quite well and we could’ve potentially won,” she recalled. “It was my first ISDE and the heat and the terrain were like nothing I’ve ever dealt with before.

“In the final moto I got the holeshot and managed to stay in front of Brandy Richards for the whole race, but on the last lap I got stuck behind a lapped rider and she managed to find a gap and squeeze past me for the win.”

As a result of her performance, Danielle was the highest-placed member of the Australian team. For 2024, Danielle has jumped up to the senior ranks and has immediately made her presence felt – in the two EW rounds at the dusty and rocky Roma venue, she finished third on Saturday, then capitalised on an early crash from Jess Gardiner, to claim a narrow three-second win over her team-mate and mentor.

“There’s definitely a lot more competition in EW from the JG class, and I had some really close racing with Emelie Karlsson and Ebony Nielson on Saturday. The tracks are a lot harder and a lot more technical, so that’s good training for the world stage.”

“On Sunday I had some unreal battles with Jess. She’s my mentor, taught me the ropes of the sport and coached me when I was younger. She’s been a really big part of my career, and it was cool to hold her off to take the win. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this year unfolds and how the championship works out.”

Image: Foremost Media.

Capping off a remarkable month, the youthful Yamaha rider broke through for her first MXW podium in her maiden senior ProMX event at Wonthaggi. After a deserving P4 result in the opening moto, she held off a desperate charge from Emma Milesevic in the second moto to finish third and claim third overall.

“I was definitely surprised with that and I wasn’t expecting it at all, although Dad was. My goal was to finish top five, so to hold on and have a really good battle with Emma in that second race to take the podium was awesome.”

For the rest of 2024, Danielle is solely focused on racing – she’s left school and is training full-time in central New South Wales, and plans to race both the AORC and the four-round MXW ProMX championship, as well as lining up for the Hattah Desert Race, ISDE in Spain, and the yet to be confirmed Australian Four-Day Enduro (A4DE).

As for the future, Danielle has her eyes set on taking her career internationally when the time is right.

“My goal is to definitely go overseas and try and race some of the GNCC races in the States. I raced a GNCC in South Australia last year, finished top five in the junior class against the boys, and I really enjoyed it. I don’t really know what the future looks like for me yet, but I’ll keep working hard, keep improving and hopefully opportunities open up for me in the future.”