By Elisa Gendron Belen
Will the new FIM Women’s World Championship be a viable class that will attract the best women racers in the world? It remains to be seen. To date, the best women in the world have taken their talent to the “co-ed” classes to compete. Frankly, there have been few, if any, opportunities for the best women to compete against each other in a class open to any woman who wants to enter, qualify and race…on the homologated machine of her choice. Even the new FIM Women’s World Championship does not completely address this, as there is an application process and a one-manufacturer spec grid.
While I applaud Royal Enfield and the organizers for putting together the Build. Train. Race. series to showcase women and attract them to the sport, it is limited to riders who are selected through an application process, and obviously to one manufacturer/model. This is not unlike Italika Racing’s International Latin American Women’s Cup that I personally competed in for the past three seasons. There is also a selection process for the women competitors and again, a single manufacturer/model to ride. Neither of these series allows for an “open” qualifying opportunity on a variety of homologated machines, which could possibly increase the size of the grids and draw talented women racers from the “co-ed” classes.
In spite of the one manufacturer limitation and application process, there does seem to be some excitement building for the FIM Women’s World Championship, which is marketed as a series that will attract and highlight the talents and abilities of the best female racers around the world. There are high hopes among promoters, teams, racers and fans that the series will finally provide the long-awaited platform that top female road racers have been looking for to showcase their talents on a global stage.
The women will be racing the Yamaha R7 motorcycle in this 12-race spec-class championship and will compete at six European rounds of the FIM Superbike World Championship. The pitch of this single manufacturer/model spec-class is that the promoter-mandated standardized equipment will ensure that the machines are similar in power delivery and handling so that no one machine has a competitive advantage, and the series will therefore exhibit the talent of the individual racer. But there is also a risk to a series completely dependent on one manufacturer for support.
Women from series such as ASRA, WERA, MotoAmerica, Italika Racing, and the European Women’s Cup are preparing to go and compete in this inaugural year of the championship.
Of course, many uncertainties remain regarding the organization of the series and the level of competition it will attract.
While there have been opportunities for women to race in women’s championships before, generally they have not garnered the validation or respect of the racing community at large and many women racers have chosen to avoid them all together in an effort to move further in their careers. There are, in fact, some very fast women riders on the MotoAmerica grid that have publicly stated their lack of interest in a women-only series. Likewise, the fastest women racers in Europe have also generally competed in the traditional “co-ed” classes.
The FIM Women’s World Championship hopes to accomplish what others have not and establish a series where the women’s championship can be taken seriously and enjoyed by fans of the road racing world community. While this will still be a learning year for the championship and its organizers, it is important to the series that their riders are marketed and approached as seriously as any men’s championship. Many women’s championships have struggled to establish validity within the racing community which, as noted previously, has turned women racers away from participating in those competitions.
Women road racers have long had to forge a path for themselves in the heavily male-dominated world of motorcycle racing. The small number of women racers have often led to very few women on the grid at professional race events, if at all. The hopes are high that with World Superbike taking up the effort, that a new era for women racers is just beginning.
Elisa Gendron Belen competes in the MotoAmerica Jr. Cup class on her Karns Performance Kawasaki Ninja 400 and is a Sport Management major with minors in International Studies and Language & Culture at St. John Fisher University. Elisa also works with both KYT Helmet Americas and Chicken Hawk Racing as a customer service representative.