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MotoGP Austin: Marquez is King COTA

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Austin as a venue for Grand Prix motorcycle racing is excellent; it’s large (obviously, it’s Texas), it’s colourful and the city itself is a great place to spend time.

As a track you either love it or hate it; it’s technical and incredibly physical but there’s a little bit of everything. If you’re looking for a racing spectacle, you won’t find it at COTA, but if you want to witness a display of utter dominance there’s nowhere else where it’s clearer.

Argentina took MotoGP’s natural thirst for drama to fever point and knocked everything out of balance. The World Champion Marc Marquez was roundly, and rightly, criticized for his actions at Termas after riding carelessly. Deliberately dangerous? No, just not quite engaging his brain.

After so much scrutiny there were really only two ways things were going to go; sink or swim. And anyone who thought it would be the first of those options clearly doesn’t know Marc Marquez.

The Circuit of The Americas is his domain, his kingdom if you will. Every year we’ve raced there he has won with ease. This year wasn’t going to be any different.

The only two hiccups in his total dominance this weekend came on Friday afternoon when Andrea Iannone topped the second free practice session and when he was given a 3 place grid penalty for impeding Maverick Vinales in qualifying.

His pole position will still go in the records as his 6th at COTA and 9th in the USA, as well as being number 46 in MotoGP on his 93rd start in the class. But he didn’t start from that prime spot on the grid, instead, he was heading the second row in 4th next to Valentino Rossi. But if you thought that would hold him back or make things more difficult, you were sorely mistaken.

When the lights went out, it was Andrea Iannone who got the best start, tearing forward from second on the grid as the riders made their way up the steep incline to the hairpin of turn 1. By this point, Marquez was already through into second, but the real miracle came when everyone made it through turn 1 safely and still onboard. Vinales had inherited pole from Marquez and slipped behind the World Champion into third as they made their way through the continuous changes of direction that weave from turn 2 to turn 9.

At turn 12, at the end of the back straight, Marquez made his move and passed Iannone for the lead, while two corners later Rossi and Zarco battled for 5th as the two almost came into contact with each other, which would’ve been the last thing this race needed.

On lap 3 Iannone decided to live up to his nickname of “The Maniac” and passed Marquez into turn 11, unsurprisingly he couldn’t quite keep tight to the line and Marc cut back into the lead. Realistically, Andrea knew the move wouldn’t stick but thought he’d try to keep things exciting anyway.

By the next lap, Marquez had pulled the pin and opened a gap of 1.3 seconds over Iannone. In previous years he’d been happy to stick around to stop the race feeling so long as he roamed at the front, but this time he was out to prove a point and he simply cleared off.

Vinales made the move into second past Iannone on lap 7, as he took the inside line into turn 1 and with 14 laps to go the podium was complete, while Marquez continued to pull away giving him a 4 second lead by the next lap.

Further back Cal Crutchlow passed Zarco for 5th but ran wide at turn 12 giving the Frenchman plenty of room to retake the position. Things then got worse for the British rider when he lost the front at turn 20, crashing out of position and his place as championship leader before he rejoined back in 19th.

Karel Abraham made the decision to pit at this point, after completing just 8 laps, due to pain. The Czech rider had crashed heavily in Q1 and was experiencing a lot of pain in his wrist, fingers, palm, arm and back. Karel was, unsurprisingly, struggling to turn or brake and his team told him to come in.

But while Abraham was forced to retire, there was a gladiator still on track, with Dani Pedrosa running in 7th despite breaking his wrist just 2 weeks earlier.

Hafizh Syahrin soon became the next rider to fall, as he lost the front at turn 1. Like Abraham, Hafizh wasn’t in perfect condition ahead of the race after he had a very hard and fast crash in the morning warmup.

He was soon followed by Alex Rins, who crashed out 3 laps later at turn 12, giving the Spanish rider 2 DNFs in 3 races, and a bitter followup to his first podium last time out in Argentina. Alex lost the front late in the corner, which left both him and his bike right in the middle of where riders were exiting the turn. Thankfully, due to some avoidance tactics from riders, including Jorge Lorenzo and Aleix Espargaro, no-one else was caught up in the incident.

By this point, the top 4 were all having pretty lonely rides. Marquez was so far gone he was almost racing in Houston, Vinales had cleanly dispensed of Iannone, who in turn had a steady gap over Rossi. In 5th Dovizioso was chasing Zarco, but behind them, Pedrosa was exceeding all expectations, including his own, as he clung on in 7th.

The next real piece of excitement came on lap 16 when Jack Miller went in hard up the inside of Jorge Lorenzo at turn 1, forcing the Spaniard to sit up. There was definitely space at the entry of the corner, although things got a little tight as Lorenzo turned into the apex. There was no contact between the pair and while it was undeniably a hard pass, it was a fair one, and Lorenzo would’ve made the same move a thousand times if roles were reversed.

One lap later and Dovizioso made his move on Zarco down the back straight (hello horsepower) and gave no opportunity for the Tech 3 rider to fight back.

Apart from a late battle for 8th between Miller and Rabat, the rest of the field pretty much followed each other home, as Marc Marquez took the chequered flag 3.5 seconds ahead of Maverick Vinales. In reality, his gap was over 6 seconds, but he sacrificed that when he stood up to do a dance over the line.

Marquez had spent a bit of time in Brazil after the Argentina race, working with UNICEF and visiting a local school in Sao Paulo. The students shared some of their dancing with the World Champion, as part of the project that aims to use dance and music to boost education. Marc had told the kids that if he won, he’d dance for them, and true to his word, as always, he did.

Following him, eventually, to the chequered flag was Maverick Vinales who took his first podium finish since Australia last year and Andrea Iannone who secured his first top 3 with Suzuki and marked a return to the podium for the first time since Valencia 2016.

The cooldown lap then brought the moment of the weekend for me. COTA had done a great job remembering Nicky Hayden, naming the area under their iconic tower Hayden Hill and painting 69 onto the grass, and many riders had been carrying their own tributes to the Kentucky Kid as well. But as he made his way back round to the pits, Marc carried a 69 flag and brought it back with him to Parc Ferme.

Speaking about Nicky after the race, Marc said that honouring Nicky had been a special motivation and that he’d told his team he wanted Nicky’s flag at the end of the race. “He was a good friend.. I think this was the moment.. I enjoy a lot to make that lap for his memory”.

But Nicky wasn’t the only extra motivation for Marc Marquez this weekend.

After Termas, COTA was the perfect track to make a point. He changed his strategy to avoid having to spend time with other riders, going so far as to say “I didn’t have the confidence to battle”, and instead simply left them all for dust (which there was a lot of this year, thanks to the track grinding).

Marquez knew that he would be under more scrutiny this weekend. In Friday’s Safety Commission, riders were told that rules would be enforced more strictly from now on and that was demonstrated when both Marquez and Pol Espargaro were given 3 place grid penalties for riding slowly on the racing line and getting in the way of other riders in qualifying.

Now that rule isn’t new, it’s as old as racing itself because trust me you don’t want to see a fast rider hit a slower one from behind, and it would certainly have been a penalty in Moto3 after the rules were made stricter to stop them always cruising when looking for a tow. So, it’s right that it was also a penalty in MotoGP, we have to have consistency and parity in the rules and their enforcement. Marc had his attention on Iannone in front of him and didn’t realise Vinales was behind him until it was too late, but that’s no excuse, he’s a 6 times World Champion and he knows better.

But that extra scrutiny and the increased pressure that comes with it only served as more motivation for Marc. After qualifying Marc made an important comment “my style is my style, but I want to learn from my mistakes”. His riding style was questioned after Argentina when that wasn’t the problem, his lack of thinking was, and in Austin, he had a point to prove.

It took Marquez all of 12 corners to lead, and apart from Iannone’s brief moment of madness on lap 3, he was unchallenged from there to the chequered flag. If you want a definition of sheer domination, it would simply read: Marc Marquez in Texas. If you’re not already impressed, and you should be, he was actually a little bit ill this weekend so by his own admission wasn’t even performing at 100%.

Marquez is essentially a certainty for COTA, the only way he won’t win there is if he screws up and there was very little chance of him doing that on Sunday. But behind him, things weren’t so set in stone.

His team-mate Dani Pedrosa was performing miracles by even getting on the bike on Friday. He pushed himself to the limit in qualifying and then beat all expectations in the race. 7th place in MotoGP can be a hard fought position to take when fully fit, so 2 weeks after breaking his wrist and having surgery, it’s nothing short of incredible. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t particularly enjoy himself and he was struggling to control the bike towards the end, but he made it through 20 laps and 400 corners of one of the most physical tracks of the year and brought home some precious points thanks to painkillers and adrenaline (which is better than any analgesic). With more time to heal before Jerez, he should be feeling considerably better when we return to Europe. The Little Samurai is one tough cookie and for me it was the ride of the weekend.

Maverick Vinales had made some substantial steps forward with the electronics that were letting him ride in a more aggressive way, something that suits “Top Gun” and the benefits were evident as he took the flag in 2nd and showed the closest pace to Marquez at COTA. He’s found a good feel on the bike and while there’s still work to do, both with the electronics and the front feel, he’s ready for Jerez. Interestingly, he feels that his season will really start after he’s had some testing time to devote purely to setup, and the next test is immediately after the next race.

The other Yamaha was brought home in 4th by Valentino Rossi. It was a good weekend for The Doctor overall and the Italian showed pretty decent pace in the cooler practice sessions. But it was the heat on race day that prevented his podium aspirations as he struggled with the front tyre. He had been given little option but to run the medium as the harder compound simply didn’t work for him, but he felt the balance of the bike might have contributed to some of his issues so there’s still work to do.

Regardless, the Yamahas are definitely making progress and moving in the right direction. It hasn’t been the ideal start to the season, especially for Rossi, but the return to Europe promises more to come from the boys in blue.

It was back to back podiums for Suzuki, although with different riders as Andrea Iannone secured 3rd after his excellent start. Andrea seems to look happier and calmer this season, and he reaped the benefits in the race as he stayed sensible (mostly) and brought the bike home. He’d shown good pace throughout the weekend and was the only rider to beat Marquez in a session. He didn’t have enough to hold off the World Champion or Vinales but it’s a very good result as he looks to prove his worth to Suzuki ahead of contract-talk time.

For Alex Rins it was a bumpy fall from the highs of his first podium at the last race. He struggled for much of the weekend; lacking confidence and feel, although he had felt better on Friday when the track was very dirty and grip levels were low. He was obviously disappointed to crash but keen to point out the positives of Iannone showing that the bike was working well.

5th went to Andrea Dovizioso, who had another weekend of damage control. Ducati expected to struggle in Austin and their concerns over turning proved true. Their issues with turning and wheelie when accelerating from low speed out of corners led to Dovi joining Lorenzo in running the aero fairing and he felt that it had definitely been the right decision. The concern for Dovizioso and Ducati is that much like last year they’ve shown that there are tracks where they struggle, and the thing that really held Dovi back in 2017 was not being on the podium when he couldn’t win. On the other hand, he goes to Jerez leading the championship, albeit by 1 point, which puts him in a much better position than last season, the flipside of that being that there are even more strong riders than 2017.

There was no such optimism on the other side of the Ducati garage though, as Jorge Lorenzo finished in 11th and called it a “race to forget”. The 2018 chassis proved to be more unstable over the bumps for the Spaniard and while over one lap he was able to put in a good time, with used tyres his pace simply wasn’t good enough, which is what ultimately held him back in the race as he struggled with spinning from the tyre. We are now heading to more Jorge-friendly circuits and with just 6 points from 3 races the improvements need to come fast.

Johann Zarco brought his Tech 3 Yamaha to the line in 6th after a tricky weekend that never really saw him looking comfortable. He didn’t have a particularly good start, and while his pace was pretty constant it simply wasn’t fast enough, especially when he came under pressure from Dovizioso, but he did secure the position of the top independent rider.

His team-mate Hafizh Syahrin definitely had a worse time though as he lost the front on the brakes and crashed. He had lost time in warmup due to crashing so was forced to run his setup from practice, which in the higher temperatures proved to be a little too soft. It was a rude awakening for the rookie who had otherwise been pretty impressive so far this year. Hopefully, it doesn’t knock his confidence and he can come back strong in Jerez.

Tito Rabat had a great race to finish 8th, a good improvement on his grid position of 14th. He’d taken a risk choosing the hard rear tyre but made it work. Tito had to make some hard overtakes but enjoyed the battles, especially with Jack Miller towards the end.

Avintia team-mate Xavier Simeon finished 20th after lacking confidence at the start but found a decent rhythm later on. Every lap is still good experience for Simeon who hasn’t had the easiest transition into the premier class and he’s the first to admit that he’s still holding back slightly to avoid making mistakes and crashing.. understandable but at some point, he’s going to have to lay it all on the line.

The star of Argentina, Jack Miller, took the flag in 9th after being beaten by Rabat late on due to a mistake he made that made him lose the front, but the Aussie had ridden a strong race and did well to make up so many places after starting 18th. It’s a 6th consecutive top 10 for Jack and with him looking so much more comfortable onboard the Ducati the season should only continue to get better.

Fellow Pramac rider Danilo Petrucci had a difficult weekend and lost time in the beginning as he struggled with his harder rear tyre and was ultimately disappointed with 12th place. The track might have been a tricky one for Ducati, but finishing behind Rabat, Miller and Lorenzo won’t have sat well.

Aleix Espargaro took the final place in the top 10 on his Aprilia after working hard to make up positions early on. Aleix felt the bike was working well, something that would’ve been a great relief after he said he barely recognised it on Saturday due to chattering and lack of traction, but he ran out of rear grip towards the end and couldn’t fight for higher positions.

Scott Redding brought the second Aprilia home in 17th after lacking rear grip, an issue that was influenced by the work they had done on improving the front-end of the bike.

The other Espargaro brother finished 13th with Pol bringing the KTM home in a pretty good position despite having issues with the changes of direction that make up so much of COTA. Pol felt the setup could’ve been a bit better and the soft front tyre might not have been ideal, but he had looked like they’d made good improvements on Saturday so hopefully, they can carry that forward.

Bradley Smith ended a few places behind his team-mate in 16th after his front tyre gave up and left him battling understeer from lap 12. Until then he’d had good pace and had made up a lot of places, but the British rider will be disappointed to just miss out on the points.

LCR’s points came from rookie Taka Nakagami on Sunday as the Japanese rider took the flag in 14th. He had hoped for more but experienced a difficult race. While his team-mate Cal Crutchlow could only manage 19th after rejoining following his crash and was obviously not happy ending an otherwise good weekend with decent pace that way.

Alvaro Bautista took the final point for the Angel Nieto team in 15th, despite lacking rear grip in the race. That issue had largely been the consequence of improving the turning, which in turn affected traction on corner exit. Team-mate Karel Abraham was unable to finish after retiring due to pain.

18th went to Tom Luthi who lost a lot of places at turn 1 as he got caught up in the group, before then having issues with front grip from the halfway point that made it difficult for him to negotiate COTA’s many turns.

The final finisher was his fellow Marc VDS rookie, Franco Morbidelli, in 20th. The Italian found himself struggling to ride the way he wanted to and put the focus on the need to get the setup to suit him and his style better.

At the end of the day, the Circuit of The Americas is almost provisionally marked down as a Marquez win as soon as the calendar comes out. He certainly doesn’t take it for granted that he will remain undefeated on US soil but no-one has brought forward a real challenge yet and 2018 was his 6th win at the track and 10th in the US in MotoGP.

This year he had a point to prove and he did it in the best way he knew how; by obliterating the rest of the field.

When asked what makes Marc so successful at COTA, Andrea Iannone responded “he’s more strong than everybody, it’s simple” and it really is. Austin goes left which suits him and he tames the challenging circuit in a way almost unheard of in motorsport.

Marquez remains the undisputed King of COTA and to those that boo him, he has one simple message “another motivation, that’s it”. If you think that you’ll break him, you picked the wrong rider. It will only make him stronger and quicker. Your act of stupidity is self-defeating. It marks you out as a fool and is blatant disrespect to every single rider that risks their life every time that they go out on track. Silence would suit you a lot better.

MotoGP now heads back across the ocean to Europe. This is the meaty part of the season. The tracks are often as narrow as they are familiar and we get closer and harder racing with battles for positions up and down the grid. It’ll be another 11 races before we leave the continent again and by then things could look very different. Next up: Jerez, and I can’t wait.

NEWS

Ana Carrasco: The fastest female motorcycle racer of all time

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She’s 21-years-old, stands five-foot-one, and weighs eight stone, wringing wet. But don’t let that fool you.

Ana Carrasco is one tough little 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. Meet Ana Carrasco – the fastest female motorcycle racer of all time.

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.’ This ruling didn’t apply to Sidecar racing so in 1954 the intrepid German, Inge Stoll-Laforge, caused a sensation by entering the Isle of Man TT – the biggest motorcycle race in the world at the time.

Inge Stoll-Laforge in 1954

She finished in a highly credible 5th position but was tragically killed four years later in a crash at the Czech Grand Prix.

By 1962 the FIM had changed its rules and allowed women to race so Beryl Swain became the first female solo rider at the TT, finishing 22nd in the 50cc race before the FIM did an about-turn and banned women again in 1963.

Despite this historical backdrop of rampant sexism, a handful of brave, determined women have persisted in blazing a trail for female riders in one of the world’s most dangerous sports. Riders like Maria Costello have scored podiums at the Manx Grand Prix (the ‘amateur’ TT) and Jenny Timnouth recently became the first female rider to compete in the prestigious British Superbike Championship.

Germany’s Katja Poensgen won the Supermono Championship in 1998 and women have even scored points in the Grand Prix world championships, the first being Taru Rinne with a seventh-place finish at Hockenheim in 1989. But while convalescing from a crash shortly afterwards, the Finn received a letter from Bernie Ecclestone (who, at the time had a heavy, but thankfully short-lived, involvement in motorcycle racing) informing her that she was ‘not qualified’ to compete the following season.

Clearly, nothing had changed. 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 – perhaps unsurprisingly given the additional barriers they faced.

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 race. In doing so, she became the first woman in history to win a motorcycle road racing world championship race.

And while the significance of the moment wasn’t exactly lost on Carrasco, she thinks like a racer first, and a woman second. ‘At the time I was not thinking about the significance of this’ she says. ‘I always just try to ride as hard as I can and try to achieve results – I don’t think about being a woman. So, in that moment I was just happy because I’d won the race but after some days I start 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.’

“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, winning the race, and taking the lead in the world championship. After another win at Donington Park in England, Carrasco now has a 16-point lead with just two rounds of the championship remaining. This makes her the first woman ever to lead a motorcycle racing world championship.

It seems an incredibly young age for anyone – male of female – to be leading a world championship but Carrasco was practically born into the saddle. ‘I started riding when I was three years old because my family was always involved in the motorcycle world’ she says. ‘My father was a race mechanic since before I was born so when I was three I started riding my big sister’s minimoto because she wasn’t interested in it. So that was a good thing for me!’

Standing at just 5”1 and weighing eight stone-three (52kg) wringing wet, Carrasco cuts a diminutive figure in the racing paddock. Her slight frame would normally give her an advantage under acceleration but constantly-changing rules in the fledgling WSS300 championship (which is only in its second year) mean that even this advantage has been removed: because she is so light, Carrasco is forced to carry a weight penalty on her Kawasaki Ninja 400 race bike.

Ana has to carry a 13kg penalty to make up for her lighter weight. It hasn’t slowed her down

‘I now have to carry a 13kg weight penalty so I think it’s actually worse to be small’ she says. ‘I have to move more kilos than the other riders through the corners and yet the overall weight of rider and bike is the same (because of the combined bike-and-rider minimum weight rule) so I don’t have any advantage on acceleration.

‘The rules change every race so sometimes we have a good bike and sometimes no. It’s difficult for us to work like this because every Thursday of a race weekend they say “Okay, now you have to change this” or “Now you have to change that.” It’s difficult for the team and it’s also difficult for me to ride fast like this because every race I have a different bike. I hope for next year the rules will be more stable because I like to win, always, and with all these changes it’s not always possible to win. At the moment, Kawasaki is not always on the top because the rules are helping the Yamahas to be at the same level. But we just have to work within the rules Dorna gives us and finish the championship the best we can.’

Carrasco at least has a competitive bike and team for the 2018 season, which is something of a novelty after battling for years with uncompetitive and poorly-funded rides in various Spanish championships and even, for a few years, in the Moto3 World Championship that runs alongside MotoGP – the Formula 1 of motorcycle racing. ‘Yes, for me it’s really good because in the past years I was struggling a lot because I wanted to be at the top but it was impossible with the bikes that I had. Now it is really good and I’m really happy with my team and with my bike and Kawasaki is helping me a lot so now I don’t want to change my team because I feel so comfortable. I want to win, so I will stay in the place where I can fight for the victory.’

The World Supersport 300 Championship which Ana currently leads is a support series to the World Superbike Championship, meaning the young Spaniard has operated out of the two biggest paddocks in world motorcycle racing. So how do they compare in their attitudes towards women? ‘The people in the WSB paddock are more friendly and more relaxed’ Carrasco says. ‘You can speak with everybody. In the MotoGP paddock there’s a lot more pressure so the riders have to always be thinking only about riding and they cannot do anything else. So, yes, the paddocks are different but I like both.

At the time of publication, Carrasco is leading the World Supersport 300 series

‘I didn’t notice any difference between the paddocks in their attitudes towards female riders. My job is the same and the people are good with me, always. But in the World Supersport 300 Championship it was more easy for me to find a good team and a good bike so that I can be fighting at the top. In the past it has been really difficult for me because I never had the equipment I needed to be fighting for the victory.’

Like every motorcycle racer, Ana Carrasco needs to have the mental capacity to accept the inherent dangers of her chosen sport and the ability to endure the pain caused by regular injuries. Although safety measures have improved radically over the last 30-odd years, people still die in this sport.

“I broke my elbow in 2007 and I broke my collarbone in 2015 and also my shoulder. I’m okay with pain – I can handle it.”

Yet it’s clearly not a fact that Carrasco loses much sleep over. ‘I broke my elbow in 2007 and I broke my collarbone in 2015 and also my shoulder. I’m okay with pain – I can handle it. I can ride with pain and don’t feel it so much. I’ve had some difficult injuries but I don’t worry too much about it. I know it’s a dangerous sport but many things are dangerous so we have to try and take part in all sports with as many safety measures as we can. We have to respect the dangers and just try to remain safe and do our job. For my mother it’s more difficult! I think this sport is difficult for all the mothers to watch!’

And before you think these are the words of a crazy and irresponsible young kid, consider this: when she’s not travelling the globe fighting for a world championship, Ana Carrasco is 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.

‘It’s difficult to do both things because I spend so much time away from home but now I’m in a sports university where many Olympic athletes study so they give me the possibility to change the dates of my exams if I am racing. So I try to work out my study and exams calendar according to the racing calendar. It’s a four-year course and I am in my second year now.

‘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.’

History in the making at Brno

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. ‘Yes, for me it’s good!’ she laughs. ‘This is a motivation to show the people that women can do the same. 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. So, I want to be always better and better and better and to arrive at the top.’

Once you can see that other girls are doing it then you can think “Why not? Why can’t I do the same?”

It’s perhaps not easy for every male psyche to handle being beaten by a woman (in the past, they’ve also had to accept Carrasco’s own take on the brolly dolly – she had her own umbrella fella on the grid!) especially in a sport that has for so long been male-dominated. So how do her rivals treat her? Does she get the respect she deserves or does she get shunned by bitter, defeated rivals? ‘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.’

Testosterone is not always a man’s best friend. Often it can lead to rash decisions out on track and crazy do-or-die lunges that have little chance of working and every chance of ending in crashes and broken bones. In the sport, this kind of aggression is known as ‘red mist’ and it’s the one area where Carrasco thinks female riders may actually have a slight advantage over the men. ‘Sometimes it helps to be a woman, yes. Women think more when they are on the bike! The men are more brave but they sometimes make dangerous moves without thinking and sometimes this is not so good! I think in my case I have a slight advantage here because I always stay calm and think a lot about what I have to do out on the race track.’

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. ‘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. So if you are the first girl to do it then it’s more difficult but once you can see that other girls are doing it then you can think “Why not? Why can’t I do the same?” So, for the girls, it’s important that I’m doing a good job in the world championship.

‘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. I would also like to continue with my team. But it will depend on what we achieve this year. I have some offers from the Moto3 World Championship and also from World Supersport 600 and World Supersport 300 teams. At the moment, I don’t know. I think around September time we will start to look more closely at next year but at the moment I just want to think about the championship.’

There are two rounds remaining of the World Supersport 300 Championship – at Portimao, Portugal, on September 16, and at Magny-Cours, France, on September 30. Carrasco has a 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. ‘We have a good opportunity, we are in a good position in the championship, so I want to try to win at Portimao because I like this place. The circuit is good for me, so I would like to finish on the podium and win the championship there. But if not, then we will wait and try again in Magny-Cours. For sure we have a good opportunity and we are in the best position to win the championship.’

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 the petite, highly intelligent, and multi-lingual Spaniard if she could put an end to all that and finally prove beyond all doubt that women have a genuine place in motorcycle racing?

‘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.’


This article first appeared on the freshly minted blog of renowned Motorcycle writer Stuart Barker. It’s been republished here with explicit permission.

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MotoGP Mugello: Form is temporary. But class? Lorenzo

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Mugello. A ribbon of perfection nestled in a lush green Tuscan valley and the destination of the yearly MotoGP pilgrimage to its sacred asphalt.

Yellow is the colour of Mugello, challenged only slightly by the beauty of il Tricolore and the heat of the Ducati red. The “Popolo Giallo” (or yellow people for the non-Italiani) dominate and with Valentino Rossi on pole, the excitement and tension within the Autodromo del Mugello was at one of it’s highest points since the golden era of the Italian master.

As the polesitter made his way around the 5.24km track to the grid, the usual spontaneous combustion of his followers took place, bathing much of the circuit in that familiar yellow haze, and he was manoeuvred into his grid place to the soundtrack of a deafening chant of “Vale Vale Vale”.

If you want a partisan crowd nowhere does it better than Mugello, and they’re quite good at the patriotism side of things too, with a rousing rendition of the spine-tingling Fratelli d’Italia echoing through the hills, something only the roar of the Frecce Tricolori could drown out as they bathed Mugello in the green, white and red of the Italian flag. In itself, it was a sight that had paddock veterans staring at the sky in awe, but combined with the atmosphere from the fans and the anticipation of the 23 laps ahead? It was an unbeatable spectacle that left the grid sitting in a haze of smoke thanks to the planes and flares.

When the smoke cleared the riders headed off on their warmup lap, and the 90,000 attendees along with millions worldwide settled themselves in for a rollercoaster 40 minutes. The track temperature was as high as the anticipation, with 51 degrees promising a punishing time for the tyres. The majority had the medium front in but Rossi, Marquez, Dovizioso and Vinales went for the hard asymmetric option, while Pedrosa and Pol Espargaro chose the symmetric. On the rear, it was mostly softs, with the medium being the tyre of choice for Rossi, Vinales, Zarco, Pedrosa, Crutchlow and Miller, with Marquez being the only rider to opt for the hard compound.

As the lights went out in Italy, it was unsurprisingly Jorge Lorenzo that got the best start as his Ducati rocketed off the line, giving him a secure slot into the lead down into turn 1. Marc Marquez made a good start from 6th but ran in too hot at San Donato and as he tried to claw back positions he had contact with Danilo Petrucci at turn 2, forcing the Italian to run off-track while the World Champion moved into third behind polesitter Valentino Rossi.

The turn 2 of Luco proved problematic for Dani Pedrosa and Takaaki Nakagami as both of them hit the floor 2 corners in. This time it was Pedrosa’s fault as he’d touched the rear of Bautista as he tried to pass Nakagami; a mistake that resulted in him taking both of them into the gravel. Nakagami was able to rejoin eventually after going back to the box but had to contend with damaged handlebars.

The final corner of Bucine saw another double crash as Scott Redding and Karel Abraham hit the floor. Abraham had lost the rear at turn 15, with his bike then taking out Redding’s Aprilia and rounding out a difficult weekend for both of them.

On lap 2, Maverick Vinales had dropped down 8 places from his starting position of 3rd, but while things weren’t going well for the Spaniard, they were far worse for Jack Miller who crashed at turn 4 and Tom Luthi who hit the floor at turn 15 after losing the front trying to pass Simeon. By the end of the second lap, 6 riders had crashed, which didn’t exactly bode all that well.

At turn 1 at the start of lap 3, Marquez made his move on Rossi, moving up the inside of the Italian on the brakes, while Petrucci was recovering from his clash with the Championship leader by putting in the fastest lap of the race.

Out front, Lorenzo was slowly but surely opening up his lead, with Marquez, Rossi, Iannone, Dovizioso, Rins and Petrucci all following in a group.

Lap 5 and Marquez’s championship lead took it’s first hit as he slid out of the race at turn 10 of Scarperia. And when I say slid, I really do mean he slid.. he tried so hard to save it and if he’d had a bit more asphalt he probably would’ve done, but once you hit gravel that’s game over. His determination left one hell of a black line behind him though. Thanks to a bit of help from the marshals, Marquez was able to rejoin back in 18th but it wasn’t going to be a 4th successive win for the Spaniard. 10 out of 10 for effort, but no points for the championship in Mugello.

Dovizioso made his move on Iannone shortly after, moving the Ducati rider into 3rd behind Rossi as his team-mate continued to pull away at the front.

2 laps later and Dovi moved past Rossi at Arrabbiata 1 to take second, with Valentino then running wide at turn 1 on the next lap, allowing Iannone to move through into 3rd.

By lap 12, Lorenzo led by over a second and back in the Yamaha days this would’ve been game over for the rest of the grid. Clear track + Lorenzo = domination. He was confident the modifications to his fuel tank would allow him to maintain his pace longer during the race, because he was less tired riding the bike, but could he take it all the way to the chequered flag?

Behind him, Rossi made it back past Iannone at turn 14, before running wide at turn 15 which let both Iannone and Petrucci past him, with the yellow & black Lamborghini liveried Pramac taking over 3rd as they chased each other down the front straight.

One lap later and Iannone lost two places, dropping back to 6th as both Rossi and his team-mate Rins made it past him, while Lorenzo’s lead was now 1.5 seconds over Dovizioso, with Petrucci rounding out an all-Ducati provisional podium.

Alex Rins then made it past Rossi for 4th, but he wasn’t able to hold the position long as the Italian duo of Rossi and Iannone pushed him back to 6th two laps later, with Valentino then turning his attention to Petrucci in front of him.

With 6 laps left, we reached the very end of the life of the tyres and riders were having to eek every single drop of grip out of the abused rubber. Petrucci and Rins were both informed by their respective teams to move to mapping 3 in an attempt to smooth things out and nurse the tyres home and while Petrucci struggled Rossi pounced, taking third at turn 4 with a perfect block pass up the inside that left no room for retaliation. Iannone took advantage shortly after, moving to 4th, while Vinales and Bautista had found some late pace and were hot on the tails of the chasing group.

With Lorenzo’s lead now over 3 seconds clear of Dovizioso, who in turn was 5 seconds ahead of Rossi, Dovi appeared to make the decision to settle for second and just bring the bike home and by the next lap, Jorge’s lead had increased to 4.6 seconds with ease.

It was 2016 when Jorge last turned Mugello into Lorenzo’s Land

Iannone made a brief attempt to pass Rossi at San Donato but ran in too hot giving the Yamaha rider plenty of room to cut to the inside line and retake the position. With 4 laps to go, Aleix Espargaro pulled into the pits to retire, marking another disappointing weekend for the Noale factory.

Petrucci, meanwhile, was still going backwards with both Rins and Crutchlow passing him in the final laps, dropping the Italian back to 7th.

On the penultimate lap, Iannone made another shot at taking 3rd from Rossi at turn 1, but as before he ran in too hot giving Valentino an easy move up the inside and he was able to chase down Dovizioso until the end of the race, closing the gap between the Italians to just 0.25 seconds at the line.

But the only gap that really mattered was that of the race winner, as Jorge Lorenzo stormed over the line to take the chequered flag 6.37 seconds ahead of his team-mate after a dominant performance that didn’t give anyone else a shot to challenge him. His pace had been unmatchable and unbeatable during the race, with the Spaniard only dropping out of the 1’48s on 4 of the 23 laps (the first and then the final 3).

It had been 2016 when Jorge last turned Mugello into Lorenzo’s Land after that incredibly close battle with Marc Marquez that saw them cross the line 0.019 apart. There was no battling this year and as Jorge planted his iconic flag into the gravel in front of the Ducati stand at Correntaio he marked his first win with Ducati and his return to the top step for the first time since Valencia 2016.

There were some who, before he had even thrown a leg over the Desmo, said that Jorge would not be able to tame it. That it wasn’t the bike for him. That he was going to follow Valentino into 2 years with no reward.

Those critics got louder as the results didn’t come, especially when Dovizioso showed that the bike could win. But Jorge remained firm in the belief that all he needed was a little help from Ducati to become more comfortable and to make the engine a little smoother and then he would be able to show his competitiveness for more than a few laps at the start of the race. The latter came at Jerez, the former at Mugello after productive tests in Barcelona and Mugello. And then the win came too.

Valentino applauded Lorenzo on the podium and embraced him in Parc Ferme

Jorge Lorenzo was hired to do one thing by Ducati; to win a world championship. But while Dovi came close last year, the bike ultimately wasn’t ready for that when Jorge arrived at the Bologna factory. You can’t expect a rider, any rider, to move from a bike like the Yamaha to one like the Ducati and produce instant results. It doesn’t happen.

Dovizioso’s success last year might have taken some of the focus away from Lorenzo’s developmental needs, prioritising the winning rider isn’t too surprising, and possibly explains why such a relatively simple tank addition has only just arrived, when he’d been asking for it months earlier.

Make me more comfortable and I’ll win was a belief Jorge stuck to and in Mugello he backed himself up emphatically.

He becomes only the 6th rider in MotoGP to win on two different manufacturers (along with Rossi, Biaggi, Stoner, Dovizioso and Vinales) and the first to do so with Yamaha and Ducati.

The wait was a long one but that will have made the cava taste all the sweeter, and while the fans at Mugello have always jeered Jorge (because he won when Rossi couldn’t) it’s important to note that Valentino applauded him on the podium and embraced him in Parc Ferme. If there’s anyone who knows how it feels to be at Ducati and struggling to win, it’s Vale.

But while Jorge did what Valentino could not (important note: completely different situations, bikes nothing alike, different factory structure & management etc), he looks to be following in his former team-mates footsteps by walking out of Ducati at the end of the season. Speaking after the race he said “unfortunately on one side of me I’m sad because I believe if these pieces that I needed arrive much earlier, maybe 4 months earlier, now I would say to you I stay in Ducati and I have now 2-3 victories, but unfortunately arrive too late.. now it’s too late and next 2 years I will be with another bike”.

Ducati team boss Gigi Dall’Igna was slightly more caged in his words saying “I think it’s really difficult that he stay with us, but never say never, see what happens in the next weeks”.

The reality is that Jorge had clearly made up his mind that he’s going and next year we’re most likely to see him on a satellite Yamaha. The where and the how are unknown but it should be a good move for him to get back to the bike he was so devastating on, and it might help Yamaha with their development too.

But that’s all in the future and Jorge Lorenzo was keen to stay focused on the present, at least until he’d had a few drinks to celebrate with his team, and he marked his win at Mugello as one of the top 3 wins of his career (not including championships) saying that it was a “dream come true” to win with Ducati at Mugello.

Of course, for Ducati, it was a pretty special day too, with a second consecutive win at Mugello after Dovizioso’s victory last year and a double podium for the factory riders in front of all the fans and factory with their first 1-2 at the circuit.

For Dovizioso, second was not the race result he wanted and he felt he’d made the wrong front tyre choice which stopped him from being quick enough through the corners before he then ran out of rear grip as well. But 20 points were very welcome after two DNFs and he moves to 4th in the championship, 29 points behind Marquez.

It’s the man who finished in third who is now the closest challenger to the World Champion as Valentino Rossi moved to 2nd in the championship, 23 points behind. For Rossi, they’d been able to improve the balance of the bike during testing, particularly over one lap, but they still need to work more for race distance. Pole position had been a very welcome surprise for The Doctor and being back on the podium for the first time since 2015 was a good way to end the weekend at home.

Valentino had been given no real choice when it came to running the hard front tyre; the medium simply wouldn’t last until the chequered flag, but it did mean he was lacking grip and meant it was a tough race for the Italian. But being on the podium in front of the yellow masses all chanting his name? Totally worth it. “That 10 minutes in the podium in Mugello in front of all the fans repay you for all the effort that you do during the year”.

It’s moments like that when he’s stood there basking in the adoration of thousands of fans, all bathed in yellow and chanting “Vale Vale Vale”, that give him all the motivation he needs to still be so competitive 23 years after he started. Valentino also reached a new milestone in Mugello as he became the first rider to reach 5000 career points in the premier class as he took his 230th Grand Prix podium and his 194th in the top tier.

In 4th came another Italian, with Andrea Iannone bringing the Suzuki home to a strong finish after a very competitive weekend that saw him top all but one of the practice sessions. In the race, he was struggling with his rear tyre and losing out on acceleration as expected but he fought until the end to try and take the final place on the podium away from Rossi and as he looks to secure his future in MotoGP it was an excellent weekend from Andrea.

The second Suzuki wasn’t far behind with Alex Rins making it a double top 5 for the Japanese team and the Spaniard was delighted, especially as he wasn’t fully fit after crashing on Saturday and hurting his shoulder (which he will have checked this week). Like everyone else, he struggled with front grip but it was a brilliant ride for Alex, especially as it was his first time at Mugello on the MotoGP bike.

6th went to Cal Crutchlow, which the British rider felt was better than he’d expected after a tough weekend. He’d struggled with front grip and found it difficult to overtake but as he continues to return to fitness after his huge crash in France, top Honda is a good result.

His LCR team-mate Takaaki Nakagami reached the chequered flag in 18th but was 5 laps down on the rest of the field due to his crash at the start of the race. Taka was understandably disappointed, especially because it wasn’t his fault, but was pleased to have kept a decent pace after he rejoined.

Despite a strong comeback after contact with Marquez, Danilo Petrucci crossed the line in 7th after he ran out of rear tyre at the end and also experienced an issue with the fuel pump that slightly reduced his power output. He’d had a few laps in the podium positions and was “very angry” to drop back late on but I think they can take positives from the good pace he showed during the weekend.

His fellow yellow Pramac team-mate (they should really keep that colour scheme) Jack Miller recorded his first DNF since Austria last year, ending his impressive run of top10 finishes. Miller crashed out on the second lap of the race and was disappointed in his mistake after a good weekend and said: “I’ve learnt a lesson”.

But one of the most disappointed riders at the end of Sunday was Maverick Vinales who brought his Yamaha home in 8th after a lot of issues with the front of the bike early on, leading him to say that “I cannot ride this bike”, before later finding some pace but being unable to really capitalise on it as he’d already destroyed his tyres. For Maverick, the high temperatures again seem to have caught the Yamaha out and it’s the difference in performance from one session to another that’s really frustrating the Spaniard. Finishing 4.4 seconds behind his team-mate on the same bike and tyres when they started on the same row is not ideal.

9th went to Alvaro Bautista after what he called a “pretty hard race” but he was happy with the gap to the leader and to have secured top 10, while his Angel Nieto team-mate Karel Abraham suffered through being ill all weekend and lost the rear at the last corner on the first lap.

Rounding out the top 10 was Johann Zarco who had a difficult weekend and never really found the pace he normally shows, saying he felt they were missing something. In the race, he still couldn’t find a good feeling and instead focussed on finishing the race as he was fighting his bike in every corner. Hafizh Syahrin had a good result in 12th despite struggling with grip early on and using up most of his energy trying to push to make up for it later on. It was actually a pretty good weekend for the rookie as he regains some of his confidence.

Splitting the Tech 3s in 12th was Pol Espargaro on the KTM and it had been a difficult weekend for the Austrian factory as they struggled through the many fast corners that make up Mugello. Pol had been battling spinning during the race and was having to adjust his throttle and engine maps to try and reduce that, while his team-mate Bradley Smith finished 14th after losing a couple of places late on after his front tyre pressure rose a bit high.

13th went to Tito Rabat who was really just happy to be on track and to get points after a crash at the Barcelona test left him with some ligament damage to his left arm. He had issues with the front tyre during the race saying it had felt like he was riding on ice and that it was almost like riding with the handbrake on. Team-mate Xavier Simeon finished 17th after a good start was hampered by issues with a rear tyre that kept stepping out on the Belgian.

The final point scoring place was secured by Franco Morbidelli in 15th who had a decent weekend; including going straight to Q2 on Saturday. He kept constant pace during the race and showed some good speed during the practice sessions. Fellow Marc VDS rookie Tom Luthi had a few crashes during the weekend and again fell during the race as he lost the front trying to make an overtake on Simeon and apologised to the team after a complicated weekend.

World Champion Marc Marquez took the chequered flag in 16th but 12 seconds off the points and 39 seconds back from Lorenzo after his fall at turn 10 on lap 5. Trying to explain the crash, Marc said that the front had folded on him unexpectedly when he wasn’t even pushing that hard. He had struggled with the tyres throughout the weekend, with the allocation being too soft for the hard braking of the Honda, but he was happy that he’d kept a decent pace after rejoining and now looks forward to Barcelona in 2 weeks time.

The other Repsol of Dani Pedrosa didn’t even make it to turn 3 of the first lap as he crashed out after touching the rear of Bautista’s bike sending both Dani and Nakagami into the gravel and Pedrosa didn’t have an easy weekend as he was never able to find grip with the tyres. His race was always going to be difficult as he was unable to progress into Q2 after having to use his second bike in qualifying due to a crash in FP4, but a DNF is the last thing Dani needed after a difficult start to the season.

It was a home race to forget for the Aprilia team as Scott Redding crashed out on lap 1 and rounded out a difficult weekend for the British rider who just can’t find the right feeling with the RS-GP, while Aleix Espargaro had to retire late in the race after having big issues with his rear tyre that led to him almost crashing on numerous occasions and eventually left him no choice but to pull in.

On the MotoGP calendar, there is nowhere like Mugello. Phillip Island has the stunning scenery, Spielberg has the greenery and the speed, but nowhere can rival the atmosphere of a Mugello that’s at the very top of its rev limiter.

Racing and Rossi are a religion for the majority that pack the grandstands and hills that line the track and they make their adoration known, and loudly. Few places on Earth show devotion like a Mugello in celebration of Valentino Rossi and his love for them burns as bright as the colour he made his own all those years ago. Long after the riders have left the podium, the invading fans remain on the grid to chant “dove Vale, dove Vale” which is their way of calling Valentino back to the podium to greet them again.. and he answers every time.

But while Mugello is always about the 46, on Sunday it was Ducati’s day as we witnessed the return of a MotoGP King to the top step as Jorge Lorenzo took his 149th Grand Prix podium, his 111th in MotoGP on his 180th start in the class thanks to his 45th win in the premier class, and his 66th overall.

It was a fast and furious weekend at the Italian Grand Prix. Lap records were smashed with the fastest ever lap now belonging to Valentino Rossi and the top speed record was surpassed twice by Andrea Dovizioso and now stands at 356.5 km/h. But while we celebrate the astonishing speeds the riders are now able to reach, we also had a sobering reminder of their danger when Michele Pirro crashed in FP2. There is no worse feeling in racing than a red flag when a rider is down and the screens come out. The fear and uncertainty are palpable and while thankfully Michele was relatively ok, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the dangers the riders face (so again, stop booing of riders and cheering when they crash) and that we keep pushing to make things safer.

Speaking of safety… Sunday marked the two-year anniversary of the fatal accident of Luis Salom at Barcelona in 2016 (at a corner that should have been modified years earlier) and it was lovely to see him be remembered throughout the paddock; with tributes from Moto2’s Joan Mir and the Moto3 winner Jorge Martin, as well as many online messages for the wonderful young man we knew as Mexicano and who is still missed every day.

My image of the weekend? It’s split actually. Michele Pirro back in the garage on the Sunday was wonderful and the Frecce Tricolori display is always breathtaking. But I think I’ll choose the podium and Jorge Lorenzo standing on the top step, holding that gorgeous Mugello trophy aloft and Valentino Rossi standing next to him, looking up at one of his greatest rivals with a smile on his face and applauding him.

Remember: form is temporary, but class? That’s permanent.

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