Meet Ana Carrasco, the female racer breaking two-wheeled records
She's 21 years old, stands five-foot-one, and weighs eight stone. But don't let that fool you. Ana Carrasco is one tough Spaniard. She's the first woman in the 100 years-plus history of the sport to lead a motorcycle road racing world championship.
She was also the first woman to set pole position and the first to win a race and, with just two rounds remaining of the World Supersport 300 Championship, she has a healthy16-point lead – against an entire field of men.
Oh, and she's also half way through a four-year law degree and trains six hours every day. Are you starting to feel a bit inadequate? You should be.
Women have not always been welcomed in the sport of motorcycle road racing. Original regulations laid down by the FIM (Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme) in the early days of racing dictated that competitors must be ‘male persons between 18 and 55 years of age’.
Despite occasional outstanding performances by women in the male-dominated sport of motorcycle racing, by the start of the 2017 season, no female had won a world championship race.
But that all changed at Portimao in Portugal on Sunday, September 17, 2017 when a 20-year-old Spanish rider called Ana Carrasco came out on top in an epic drag race to the finish line in the World Supersport 300 Championship (WSS300) race.
And while the significance of the moment wasn’t exactly lost on Carrasco, she says she wasn’t thinking about that at the time. “I always just try to ride as hard as I can and try to achieve results – I don't think about being a woman,” she said.
“So, in that moment I was just happy because I'd won the race, but after some days I started to realise what I had achieved. It's important that a woman can be fighting for the victory in the world championship because it's good for other girls to see that this is possible.”
After finishing the 2017 season in eighth place overall, Carrasco came out of the traps ready for a proper fight in 2018, setting pole position at Imola, italy, before winning the race, and taking the lead in the world championship. Carrasco now has a 16-point lead with just two rounds of the season remaining.
However, for Carrasco, it’s not all about racing. When she’s not travelling the globe fighting for a world championship, she’s studying for a law degree. Half-way through a four-year course, the girl from Cehegin in the Murcia region of south-east Spain must balance adrenalin with diligence and solitude in equal measure.
“I don’t know for sure if I will be a lawyer after racing but this is my Plan B! I want to be a racer and be riding for many years but, if not, then at least I have another plan to be a normal person and to have a job and a family and everything.”
Perhaps even more impressive – and certainly testimony to her determination and will to win – Carrasco also maintains a brutal training regime that would qualify as a full-time job in itself. “I train around six hours every day” she says. “I go to the gym for about three or four hours and then ride dirt bikes for another few hours.”
It’s this kind of commitment that sees Carrasco regularly beating an entire field full of men and her reward is the sheer satisfaction that generates, saying her motivation comes from showing “people that women can do the same [as men].
“This is what I want – I want to win in a world championship so I can show that I can beat the best riders in the world in that class.”
It’s perhaps not easy for every male psyche to handle being beaten by a woman, especially in a sport that has for so long been male-dominated. So how do her rivals treat her? “For sure they respect me because if you are fast, everybody respects you!
“I’ve shown them that I can win races and fight for the championship so I think everybody respects me now.”
Female motorcycle racers are no longer a complete novelty but they’re still very much in the minority (there are none at all, for example, in the world’s two biggest motorcycle championships – MotoGP and World Superbikes) although Carrasco believes it’s getting easier for women to be involved.
She said: “Every year it gets a bit more easy. It's difficult for a young female rider to see how they can arrive in a world championship if they never see any other girls doing it.
“I think women can do the same as men in this sport. We are all just riders and we can all do the same thing. But it’s more difficult for women to find a good opportunity – a good team and a good bike.
“It’s more difficult for people to believe that we can win so we have many problems in getting access to competitive equipment to be fighting at the top. In this sport, if you do not have a good bike then you cannot fight to win.”
As to the future, Carrasco already has some options on the table due to her incredible performances this year. But for now, she’s concentrating on the job in hand. “I want to continue with Kawasaki because I am very happy with them and they are supporting me to be at the top.
“At the moment, I don’t know [what I’ll do next year]. I think around September we will start to look more closely at next year but at the moment I just want to think about the championship.”
With two rounds remaining of the WSS300, Carrasco has that healthy 16-point lead over Germany’s Luca Grunwald – but with 25 points available for each race win, it’s still all to play for. One crash or mechanical breakdown could change everything, but Carrasco is confident.
The sport of motorcycle road racing has been around for well over 100 years but no woman has ever come this close to lifting a world title. So what would it mean to Carrasco?
“For me it would be a dream come true because, for my whole life, my dream is to be world champion, and this year I have the opportunity so I want to give my best to try to win.”