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MotoGP Le Mans: Marquez destroys the competition, but is he destroying the sport?

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Saturday at the French Grand Prix saw the excitement of the home fans ramped up to fever pitch; Johann Zarco had hit the first milestone of a perfect home Grand Prix by qualifying on pole.

As a French rider with a French team, wearing French leathers and helmet and riding on French tyres, pole position at the French Grand Prix seemed to be written in the stars. It was race number 5 and so is he.

La Marseillaise echoed around the Le Mans Bugatti Grand Prix race circuit as the riders sat on the grid, but would we be hearing it again at the end of 27 laps and would we see the return of the flipping Frenchman to the top step?

The short answer is no.

In sunny Le Mans, where we lay our scene (that’s the only Shakespeare reference I promise), the excitement level of the record number of fans packed into the grandstands was as high as the track temperature (44 degrees).

When the lights went out, things had immediately not gone to plan for Zarco as he essentially went backwards as those around him got better launches off the line. Jorge Lorenzo tore off like a demon from 6th and led into the long sweep of turns 1 and 2. Zarco then made an incredible move on the brakes into turn 3 as he moved up the inside of multiple riders and sat up Marc Marquez before slotting into 2nd, while the World Champion was left unsettled by the move and dropped back a couple of places.

It was a crash-heavy weekend in France, with 109 over the 3 days and 28 on race day across the classes, something largely attributed to the high level of grip from the surface; great when it’s there but when it goes it disappears suddenly. The first in MotoGP came just 6 corners in when Andrea Iannone slid out of the race as the rear of his Suzuki came around on him.

“A win without risk, is a triumph without glory”

Over the line to start the second lap and Lorenzo led from Zarco and Dovizioso, with Petrucci, Marquez and Rossi not far behind. The other Yamaha of Vinales was back in 11th, while both Alex Rins and Pol Espargaro had made good progress on lap 1 and had each moved up 7 places to 8th and 11th respectively.

Back at the front and Zarco was chasing down Lorenzo and his hopes of home glory, but was visibly getting out of shape, unsurprising considering that he often struggles with a full fuel tank. The next two crashes of the race came in quick succession with Alvaro Bautista falling at turn 6 and Tito Rabat crashing out at turn 8.

Lap 3 and Zarco ran wide at La Chapelle (turn 6) which gave Dovizioso an opportunity he wasn’t going to ignore as the Italian moved through into second behind his team-mate. Dovi then spent a lap chasing down Lorenzo, before getting close enough to make his move on lap 5.

Dovi took the inside line at turn 3 and took the lead, but it was one that was destined to end almost as soon as it began. Coming into turn 6, Dovi was just a little wide and had a slight bobble. It may have been minor but it was enough to disrupt the contact between tyre and asphalt, and before he knew what was happening Dovizioso was sitting in the gravel at La Chapelle looking completely baffled.

Lorenzo found himself in the lead once more ahead of Zarco and Marquez, while behind them the second group of Petrucci, Rossi and Miller were closing the gap to the front.

On lap 7 at the ‘S’ Bleus, Marquez made his move on Zarco, with an inch-perfect pass up the inside in the change of direction. He wasn’t able to keep 2nd for long though as at turn 3 on the next lap, Zarco again passed the Championship leader up the inside, although slightly less aggressively this time.

5 corners later at Garage Vert, Zarco hit the floor and in turn blew Marquez’s championship hunt wide open. Zarco had come into turn 8 just a little hot and wide and simply lost the front.

There would be no French winner at Le Mans in 2018 and the fans who have taken Zarco to their heart were understandably devastated. But there’s a French proverb that says “A vaincre sans peril, on triomphe sans gloire”, which basically means that a win without risk, is a triumph without glory. Zarco had to go for the glory on Sunday. This wasn’t about the championship, it was all about winning at home. Unfortunately, the risk didn’t pay off.

As Zarco arrived back at his box with his damaged Yamaha M1, Dovizioso was sitting in the Ducati garage with his head in his hands. Both had the chance of fighting for a win at Le Mans, both had pushed too soon and paid the price.

Back on track, Marquez took the lead from Lorenzo on lap 10 at La Chapelle, with a hard, but ultimately fair, move up the inside. Lorenzo then dropped back to 3rd one lap later as Petrucci passed him at the Musee corner at turn 7. Scott Redding crashed out moments later at the same corner, marking another difficult weekend for the British rider.

Lap 13 and this time it was Valentino Rossi passing Lorenzo with a perfect move up the inside of Garage Vert that left no room for retaliation. It continued to get worse for Jorge as on the next lap he was also passed by Jack Miller, dropping the factory Ducati rider back to 5th.

Out front, Marquez lost the front at turn 3 but was able to save it on his elbow. Something he attributed to his crash at the same corner in FP3 saying that it had meant he’d entered that corner “always careful” and that he’d kept his body stiff and used his elbow “like a stick”.

Behind him, Petrucci had also seen the incident, saying “I saw Marc lose the front and I say oh, maybe he’s in trouble. He was so in trouble that the lap later he did his best lap! He is incredible”.

And Petrux was right. The lap after that mistake at turn 3, Marc put in the fastest lap of the race and increased his gap back to Petrucci by almost half a second.

Further back, there was a battle of the rookies as Morbidelli and Syahrin fought it out for 12th place, while Cal Crutchlow was putting in the ride of a warrior as he passed Pol Espargaro for 10th on lap 19.

From this point, everything stayed pretty calm, or as calm as it gets in MotoGP when riders are racing around at over 300km/h on used tyres. Marquez continued showing terrifying consistency out front, Vinales made it up to 7th after passing Aleix Espargaro and Rins, and Dani Pedrosa took 5th from Lorenzo with a lovely pass at turn 8.

Jack Miller found a bit of late pace and tried to close in on Rossi, but was unable to make any meaningful progress on the Italian, while Crutchlow was able to make it pass Aleix and Rins for 8th in the late stages.

On the last lap, Marc Marquez looked back over his shoulder as he came out of turn 10 and unsurprisingly found no-one there as he now had a 2.3 second lead over Petrucci, while Rossi was a further 3 seconds behind.

As the current World Champion and championship leader wheelied over the line to take his first 3 in-a-row since 2014, he cemented his lead in the standings and gave the RC213V a well deserved “good job” rub.

On his 95th MotoGP start, Marc Marque took his 64th Grand Prix victory and equalled Casey Stoner on premier class wins with 38. It was also his 106th Grand Prix podium, his 67th in MotoGP and he now leads the championship by 36 points.

In recent years the Honda has struggled at Le Mans, and this time last year Marc was so unhappy that he told his team that he wasn’t enjoying racing. This year the work that Honda has done, particularly on acceleration, paid dividends and the thing that should scare the other riders on the MotoGP grid is when Marc says he’s in a “very sweet period with my bike”.

He was the only rider to run the hard rear tyre, with everyone else choosing the soft compound, and after running it in morning warmup he knew it would take a few laps before it was ready to push, so he stayed patient. He didn’t panic, he didn’t try to make moves his tyre wasn’t ready for and when he did hit the front, he left everyone else behind.

Following Marquez to the chequered flag in second was Danilo Petrucci who had a good weekend in Le Mans and took his 6th podium in MotoGP. Qualifying on the front row was crucial as the Italian tends to struggle with his starts but he kept a strong, consistent pace and now heads to his home race in Mugello on good form.

Jorge Lorenzo is still finding the Ducati too tiring to ride

Completing the podium in third was Valentino Rossi, which for the home fans seemed to make up, at least slightly, for the fact that Zarco crashed out. After qualifying 9th, Rossi had set his sights on the top 5 and wasn’t overly optimistic as the Yamaha team continue to struggle technically. But they made some changes to setup that gave Valentino a little more grip and improved acceleration. Paired with a decent start, he was able to maintain a good pace throughout the race and it’s an important podium at a difficult time. And just because the numbers never stop being impressive, it was Rossi’s 229th Grand Prix podium and his 193rd in the premier class, on his 370th Grand Prix start.

Around a second behind Rossi came Jack Miller, who had a strong race and was able to stay close to the front group consistently. He was a little disappointed not to be able to get closer to Rossi but 4th is an excellent result for the Australian and with Petrucci on the podium, it was a great weekend for the Pramac team.

5th went to Dani Pedrosa, who finished 7.4 seconds behind his victorious team-mate. It had been a difficult weekend for the Spaniard, especially as he continued to struggle physically after his huge crash at Jerez that left him with a lot of pain and swelling in his hip. While his pace wasn’t the quickest, he stayed consistent and was able to improve his setup over the 3 days.

After a demon start, it was the Desmo that ultimately held Jorge Lorenzo back as he crossed the line in 6th. Jorge is still finding the Ducati too tiring to ride and expressed the need for more support from the fuel tank, especially in the braking zone. He’s able to go fast at the start of the race, despite that being when the bike is at it’s heaviest, but as the physicality of riding the GP18 drains his energy he’s unable to keep the pace and drops back. If you have any doubts just how difficult gripping onto a MotoGP bike for 45 minutes at over 300km/h can be, squeeze a beachball as hard as you can between your thighs for an hour and you’ll still be nowhere near understanding.

23 seconds behind Marquez and 13 behind Lorenzo was Maverick Vinales in a lonely 7th place. He was more than understating when he said it was “not the race I hoped for” and other than the technical struggles he said that it had just taken too long for him to pass riders in the earlier stages of the race and then just couldn’t close the gap once he’d made into 7th despite pushing at the limit. From a dominant 2017 race when no-one could touch the factory duo (until VR fell off) to finishing 23 seconds behind the winner, the higher temperatures at Le Mans this weekend stopped Vinales’ hopes of taking advantage of a track that normally suits the Yamaha.

8th went to Cal Crutchlow, who only left the hospital on Sunday morning after his horrendous highside in qualifying. After a night at the Centre Hospitalier du Mans where he was kept under observation and put through multiple tests during the night, with some concern over internal injuries, as well as a contusion to his pelvis and hip area, he was passed fit by the circuit medical team (although whether you should be able to ride after spending the night in the hospital is possibly debatable) and started from his qualifying position of 13th. The British rider had remained cautious at the start of the race in an attempt to avoid further crashes and after a brave ride thanked his team for giving him a great bike that he, unfortunately, couldn’t take full advantage of.

Aleix Espargaro achieved his initial target of seeing the chequered flag as the Aprilia rider crossed the line in 9th. Aleix had lost time and positions at the first chicane and had to push hard to recover but was held back by a large amount of front chatter. Despite that, he was able to keep a decent pace and really just finishing was the important thing. For his Aprilia team-mate Scott Redding it was another weekend to forget as he crashed out after struggling with his front tyre. Had Redding seen the flag he would’ve been given a 1.9-second penalty for taking a shortcut, but despite feeling “ok” with the bike during the race, he still hasn’t found the setup and feel he’s looking for from the RS-GP.

Alex Rins rounded out the top 10 after a tricky weekend that saw the Suzuki rider trying to find the right balance during the race. 10th is a decent result, especially following his 3 DNFs so far this year and we’ll soon be back at tracks he’s ridden on the MotoGP bike so should hopefully see some improvements, because he has the pace. Continuing the trend of only one Suzuki seeing the flag was Iannone as he followed his back-to-back podiums in Austin and Jerez with a DNF. Andrea was unsure why he crashed, just saying that he lost the rear but it’s possible he just pushed too hard too soon, a shame considering the good pace he’d shown.

11th went to the first of the KTMs and Pol Espargaro. It had been a decent start for Pol who made up a lot of positions early on but he lost touch with the group and couldn’t make further progress. Despite finishing 32 seconds behind Marquez, Pol was upbeat that they’d finished “almost 20 seconds faster than we were last year”. Bradley Smith had brought the second Austrian machine home in 14th and was happy with his race despite losing quite a bit of time fighting for position at the start.

Hafizh Syahrin won the battle of the rookies for 12th despite having a bad start and getting stuck in the group. He found a good pace, regained some of his confidence after some big crashes and again learnt a lot. It was a good race from the Tech 3 rider.. and that’s more than can be said for his team-mate.

Johann Zarco takes home 0 points from his home race after having a bad start but recovering in the chicane, before entering turn 8 a little fast on lap 8 and losing the front. The French rider had felt good on the bike but with a still reasonably full fuel tank and the medium front tyre he just pushed too much too soon. Despite his anguish at throwing away at least a podium, he was able to look at the positives that he’ll be able to “take home very nice memories with the pole position” and he got a lot of love from the French fans and those moments are ones he won’t forget any time soon.

Franco Morbidelli crossed the line in 13th after an ok race that saw him eventually have to slow down because of the rear tyre, while his Marc VDS team-mate Tom Luthi finished in 16th after losing time at the start and not having the best front feel before improving slightly towards the end.

The final point went to Takaaki Nakagami in 15th who despite being injured after a crash earlier in the weekend felt ok and had a better feel with his bike than he’d experienced back in Jerez. After 15 laps Taka struggled with the front tyre but it was an important point for the rookie.

Number 17 Karel Abraham finished in 17th (I like a bit of symmetry) after a hard weekend and simply said: “I’m doing my best and it seems, for now, it’s not enough”. While the second Angel Nieto bike of Alvaro Bautista ended it’s race early on in the gravel after Bautista lost both the front and rear at the same time. Alvaro said that he’d felt comfortable on the bike and thought he could’ve fought for the top 10 if he hadn’t crashed out.

Unless Marquez has a disaster couple of races and someone else has an overnight revelation, they should be afraid, very afraid

The final finisher in 18th was Xavier Simeon who struggled in the race and had a lot of pain in his right arm during the 27 laps. Despite that, he was happy to have found a good setup in the warmup which he hopes will prove useful in the next races. Team-mate Tito Rabat crashed out after using a different line into the corner to defend his position, which caused him to lose the front and summed it up simply by saying “I screwed up”. Aside from the result, there were some promising moments from Tito during the weekend.

Then there’s Dovizioso, who was as disappointed with himself as he was confused about the crash when it happened. Andrea simply went wide, got a little unstable and lost the front, an easy mistake to make but one that Dovi branded “unacceptable”, particularly considering his title aspirations. Dovi showed some of the best pace over the weekend and was expected to be Marquez’s closest rival on Sunday but after a DNF in Le Mans and his DNF in Jerez, things aren’t looking so pretty despite his obvious pace and ability.

The championship is still a pretty tight fight, but only if you ignore Marc Marquez. He is 36 points clear of Maverick Vinales in second, who has that position less because of performance and more because he hasn’t crashed out of a race so far this year (to finish first, first you must finish). One point back is Zarco, with Rossi a further 2 behind and in turn 2 ahead of Petrucci. From 2nd to 9th the riders are split by just 13 points, with Pedrosa in 10th 17 points behind Dovizioso who’s in joint 9th place with Crutchlow and 49 points behind Marc.

If the rest of the field weren’t already feeling that Marquez was uncatchable; after 3 wins in-a-row and after showing almost unmatchable pace and with a huge championship lead, they probably do now. Unless Marquez has a disaster couple of races and someone else has an overnight revelation, they should be afraid, very afraid. Destroying the sport? Don’t be ridiculous. Destroying the competition? Absolutely.

And just because the message still isn’t getting through the incredibly thick skulls of some spectators (not fans) I’ll say it again.. your booing and jeers are as unwelcome as they are ineffective. You’re not bothering him, you’re just pissing the rest of us off. He’s not slowing down and regardless of which rider you support he’s beating them. If you can’t be nice, be quiet. After all, even Valentino applauded him on the podium.

But as marvellous as Marquez was, he’s not my rider of the weekend. That goes indisputably to Jakub Kornfeil. In the Moto3 race as the riders came around to start the last lap, Enea Bastianini crashed and Kornfeil found himself faced with the belly-pan of a Leopard Honda. Now normally in this situation, if you can’t avoid it you hit it and pray for the best. But not this time. Kornfeil did hit the Honda, but rather than it catapulting him from his bike so that he could join Enea in the gravel, it acted as a ramp and he got some big, big air. That was the spectacular part for viewing, but the skill came next. As he landed in the gravel he bottomed out the suspension (which isn’t necessarily designed to take a Moto3 bike landing after going that high in the air) but rather than getting bogged down he took the racer route: if in doubt, gas and he was miraculously able to rejoin, albeit while seeming a bit awed at what had just happened. I’m not sure if we need to give him a showjumping rosette or a motocross trophy but he deserves something because I am still watching it and shaking my head.

There’s now 2 weeks until the next race, which is at one of my favourite places on Earth; the beautiful Mugello. But the work hasn’t stopped as both Moto2 and Moto3 have a 1-day test at Le Mans, while MotoGP head to Barcelona on Tuesday to try out the new surface before the race there next month.

And a final note to end on. The 22nd May, marks the 1 year anniversary since Nicky Hayden sadly passed away following a cycling accident. The Kentucky Kid is still universally missed so keep him and the wonderful Hayden family in your thoughts tomorrow.

Let’s get it.

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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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