Ana Carrasco becomes first female motorcycle world champion
A significant milestone was passed on the road to gender equality yesterday when 21-year-old Ana Carrasco became the first female motorcycle world champion, surviving the final round of the 2018 World 300 Supersport Championship at Magny Cours in France with just three points from her 13th place, enough to give her the title by a one-point margin.
Car and motorcycle racing are among the few sports where women compete directly with men, but in the 134 year history of motorsport, there has never previously been a female world champion. Until Sunday that is, and Ana's win might be far more significant in propelling her to global superstardom because of the nature of global motorcycle sales.
World Superbike Racing is the most influential motorsport series in the world and success in the world superbike championship (where the racing bikes are based on production motorcycles) translates directly to large capacity road motorcycle sales.
The same formula saw the Supersport 600 cc class introduced in 1999 and become a mainstay for racing classes all over the world ... but only the first world. The bulk of the world's motorcycle sales are now in emerging economies, with large populations and a high percentage of motorcycles among road users.
The introduction of the Supersport 300 class in 2017 has proven to be immensely popular in those emerging markets, where coincidentally, the 300 cc class is the most viable sports category.
In most of Asia, Europe and South America, registration, insurance and roads combine to make the 300 class the most important category and the global following of the 300 Supersport championship will heighten Carrasco's global recognition.
Indeed, all of the countries where the 300 category are on high growth curves seem to be emerging markets growing rich, where most of the population ride motorcycles, and the top of the aspirational heap is a 300 cc sports motorcycle.
Hence the Spaniard's world championship might well make her a global name in many more countries and with a far greater following than could have been conceived just two years ago when 300 Supersport racing hadn't yet begun.
Carrasco had previously contested Moto3 events at a world championship level in 2013, becoming the first woman to score points with 15th at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix and eighth at the 2013 Valencian Grand Prix before sponsorship issues caused her to lose several seasons at International level as she attempted to find the right team.
She moved to the newly-formed Supersport 300 World Championship in 2017, becoming the first woman in an individual world championship motorcycle race at Portimeo in September, 2017.
The above video clip shows Carrasco drafting to her way to her first win, cleverly using slipstreaming out of the last corner to take victory over her male competitors by thousandths of a second.
To be competitive in the Supersport 300 class, with such small speed differentials, a rider has to be able to carry sustained corner speed, and the above video of MotoGP winner and commentator Simon Crafar chasing Carrasco around Cartagena at the beginning of 2017, shows the remarkable skills of Carrasco during her first try-out on a Moto2 bike.
In the first half of this video, she is doing her first laps on a bike with twice the power of her normal 300cc machine, but in the second half of the video, Carrasco comes to grips with the power and really gets going so much so that Crafar is struggling to stay with her.
Ana Carrasco's winning season
Carrasco's 93 point 2018 season saw her score points in all eight rounds (meaning she finished in the top 15 riders in every race), saw her lead the championship table after her win at Imola in Italy on May 13, and extend her points lead to 22 points with another win at Donington in the British round of the title chase.
The last few rounds of the championship have seen her bike lacking pace though, and from the last three races of the season leading into Magny Cours, her returns were just 11th, 10th and 10th, and she fronted the starter in the final race of the season from 25th place with a lead of just 10 points. A win scores 25 points, second scores 20 points, and her competitors were 10 and 18 points behind her.
Carrasco posted on her Facebook page after qualifying in 25th place, "Working very hard to find a solution! We never give up, we will fight until the end!"
Her attitude ultimately turned out to have been the difference between continued obscurity, and a place on the world stage. She finished the first of 12 laps in 23rd place, with her title rivals at the front of the field, holding positions that would have surpassed her 10/18 point advantage and given them the title.
Lap by lap, she edged closer to the points, 22nd, 22nd, 20th, 19th, taking 18th place with just three laps to go. The final laps saw Carrasco finally finding her rhythm, taking 15th place and finally 13th place and three precious points for a season tally of 93.
Her closest rival, Scott Deroue, had led the race in the early laps but his gear lever broke while he was in the leading group on the 5th lap, ending his race and his title prospects.
That left Carrasco's next closest rival Mika Perez of Spain, who took 20 points for second place, giving him a season points tally of 92 points, with Carrasco winning the championship by the narrowest of margins.
The motorcycle world has been awaiting a genuinely competitive female at world championship level seemingly forever ... and in one of the tightest, toughest, dog-eat-dog classes in the world, Ana Carrasco has proven to be an absolute terrier. Bravo!