Female motorcycle racers are very few and far between. Over the years there have been many successful ones, but they all fly under the radar.
To date, one of the most notable female names in racing is Maria Costello. She was the first woman ever to grace the podium at the Manx GP in 2005 and held the Guinness World Record for the fastest woman ever around the Isle of Man TT circuit for five years – until current British Superbikes racer Jenny Tinmouth came along, but we’ll get to that later.
This year at the Bennetts Senior Classic TT, Costello clinched an impressive third place alongside TT legend John McGuinness and Dean Harrison.
In case you’ve never seen or heard of the TT before, here’s a little info. Everyone that competes in the TT, whether male or female, is a nutter. Road racing is absolutely mental but definitely worth a watch. Track racing is safe. It’ll never be 100% safe, but there are lots of safety measures in place to ensure that if a rider crashes, they’re much less likely to be seriously injured or worse. The TT is nothing like that. There are only so many safety measures that can be put into place and the racing marshals can only do so much. The TT takes place on the mountain course in the Isle of Man, on the roads. This means that if a rider crashes, they won’t end up in the gravel that slows them down like on track, they’ll probably crash into a post box. Or a lamppost, or possibly even a pub. And if they crash into the side of someone’s house, there’s a good chance that they’ll go in for a cup of tea instead of heading back to their garage. The riders know that death can always be a split second away, and there have been over 270 recorded deaths on the mountain course since it began.
In 2009, the legendary Lady of the Roads was awarded an MBE for her services to motorcycling. The one thing you cannot doubt about her is her passion for the sport. To date, she has broken 24 bones, including her ribs, scapula, elbow, collarbone and pelvis but she still continues to race. That’s the thing with motorcycle riders; they’re made of rubber. They can fall down four times and they’ll get up five. Broken bones happen regularly but it never fazes them; it’s just part of their job.
Costello herself knows that being “a woman in a man’s world” can be difficult. In an interview with the BBC she said: “Female riders can attract a lot of publicity and that’s what teams are starting to realise but I hope, one day, there’ll be no differences and we can just get it on merit.” As a huge racing fan and a budding motorcycle journalist, I have been thinking about for a while.
Costello has gone on to set up the organisation Women on a Motorcycle (WOAM), which are female only track days. It’s clear that she works tirelessly to promote female motorcycle racers and it is something she is massively passionate about.
“I want every woman to enjoy their motorcycle as much as I do, it’s not all about speed or getting your knee down, it’s about that smile on your face at the end of the day after you’ve improved your corning, braking or riding position”.
Jenny Tinmouth currently races in the British Superbikes series – the highest level of racing in Britain. She became a history maker in 2015, when she became the first woman to sign for a full factory team. The Queen of Speed joined the Honda Racing British Superbikes Team for the 2016 season, and hoped to be the first woman to be fighting in the top 10. She joined Australian Jason O’Halloran and Dan Linfoot who became two out of the six title contenders. Unfortunately for Jenny, she had a string of results which weren’t what she was hoping for, with 19th place being her best finish – which was also dead last.
Even though her results haven’t been great and she hasn’t scored any points for her team, there is one thing she must be commended on – her enthusiasm. She has suffered numerous crashes this year, but every time she gets up and walks away with a smile on her face, ready to come back at the next round to try and fight for some points. That is something that a lot of male riders don’t have.
She joined British Superbikes in 2011 as a privateer. She didn’t have her own garage and could regularly be seen in a tent behind the pits working on her own bike and building it from scratch. She didn’t have a chance to finish the last season because she ran out of funds, and signing for the Honda Racing team was the big break she needed. But sadly for her and her many fans, she just couldn’t keep up and get the results she or the team wanted – leaving her currently sitting without a ride for the 2017 season.
But the question on everyone’s (or at least my) mind is this: did Honda Racing sign her just because she’s a woman? Women in motorcycle racing are rare, and signing her over so many of the other talented male riders in the field could’ve been purely for publicity. I’m not saying that she isn’t talented because she really is, and she has more balls than a lot of us reading this but even when she competed as a privateer, she wasn’t getting the results. I can only imagine that signing a woman works wonders for a team’s reputation.
Other notable women in motorcycle racing include Spanish born Maria Herrera who is the only female to compete full time in the Moto3 World Championship, Ana Carrasco who competes in the FIM CEV Moto2 European Championship (and the first woman to score points in the Moto3 World Championship) and Beryl Swain who competed in the Isle of Man TT, creating a media shitstorm. Her racing license was eventually revoked due to the perception that motorcycle racing was too dangerous for women. Of course there are many other women competing all over the world, and in the next part of this series of articles I will be talking to some of them.
The point of this piece is this: are women looked at as dainty little flowers that need to be bubble wrapped and protected at all times? I certainly don’t think so. Women are capable of so much more, including riding and racing a motorcycle.
(photo credit: Glynne Lewis for The Chester Chronicle)