The 2017 MotoGP season was the most unpredictable season in the series’ 68-year history, with twists and turns at every round, epitomised at Phillip Island, a race which saw the top seven overtake each other 73 times.
Factory and satellite machinery have never been closer, too, with the 23-strong grid separated by under three seconds on multiple occasions throughout the season. Premier class racing has never been this close, prompting commentators the world over to cite it as “the golden era”.
But, we’re not quite there yet.
Throughout history, the world of motorcycle racing has long been a male dominated arena. With their on-track heroics, the likes of Giacomo Agostini, John Surtees, Barry Sheene, Kevin Schwantz, Mick Doohan, Valentino Rossi and so on have rightly earned legendary status. But, when are we likely to see a female rider battling at the sharp end in the pinnacle of two wheeled motorsport, and will we ever see a woman world champion?
Rewinding half a century, Beryl Swain was known as the ‘Goddess of the Gas Pedals’ for her passion and talent as a motorcycle racer. Swain became the first female solo rider at the 1962 Isle of Man TT, competing on an Italian made Itom 50cc, finishing 22nd out of 25 riders in a two-lap race. However, it was Swain’s first and last TT.
It was the first year the 50cc class had been given world championship status, and her appearance attracted huge publicity. The FIM – motorcycle racing’s governing body – concluded that it was too dangerous for women to take part and a fatality would be bad publicity.
Her license was revoked, and at the age of 26, she hung up her leathers.
In the following 50 years, little has happened to nurture young female talent into motorcycle racing, despite the incredible achievements of the likes of Maria Costello, former female solo Isle of Man TT lap record holder and multiple TT Classic podium finisher, and Jenny Tinmouth, current female solo TT lap record holder and recent British Superbike regular.
Costello simply stated in a 2016 interview with Roadracingcore.com, “More people need to be educated about the fact that women can have careers in motorcycle racing.” And she’s right, of course.
Consider 21 year old Maria Herrera who has been in the Grand Prix paddock as a Moto3 regular since 2013, and endurance rider and German Superbike regular Lucy Glöckner, who made history in 2017 at the 81st edition of the Bol d’Or by finishing on the podium.
Then in September last year came a tipping point, as a 20 year old Spaniard made history at Portugal’s Portimao circuit. Ana Carrasco became the first woman to win a world championship event, winning a thrilling World Supersport 300 race after coming from second place on the final corner to take the chequered flag on board her Kawasaki Ninja 300.
Maria Costello believes that the achievements of riders like Carrasco and Glöckner are making a huge impact, “What Ana achieved is wonderful and having Lucy on the podium at Paul Ricard really says something.”
Does this provide hope for young female riders? Absolutely.
Coupling the historic achievements of Swain, Costello, Tinmouth, Herrera, Glöckner and Corrasco with the latest initiatives from Dorna like the British Talent Cup, the possibility of the first female rider to make it into MotoGP and have a shot at becoming world champion is becoming ever more likely.