Moto3 racer Maria Herrera has turned heads in her rookie season, but she does she have the potential to go all the way to the top? She spoke to Jamie Klein about her year and future ambitions.
If female racers on four wheels are a relatively hard to come by, then it’s fair to say they are even scarcer in the bike racing world.
There are currently a smattering of female riders across various categories: Jenny Tinmouth races a works Honda in British Superbikes, Elena Myers plies her trade in the MotoAmerica series, and women’s enduro world champion Laia Sanz is very much the leading lady of the Dakar Rally.
But, it’s Moto3 where women has been represented best this year, with not one but two Spanish girls having featured full-time in the lightweight category in 2015 – Ana Carrasco and Maria Herrera.
And, of the two, it’s the latter who has established herself as the more promising prospect with a number of eye-catching rides in her rookie season.
Speaking about her maiden Moto3 campaign, Herrera said: “I'm happy, because I've been quick on most tracks, except for one or two.
"We have been close to the leaders and that's important for the second year.”
Making waves in Spain
Herrera made history two years ago, when she became the first girl to win a race in the Spanish Moto3 series at Aragon. A second win later in the year at Navarra proved her first triumph was no fluke, Herrera finishing fourth in the standings – only 13 points behind champion Fabio Quartararo.
The following year, she took another win at Jerez, and made a series of assured wildcard appearances in Moto3, doing enough to bag herself a full-time ride in 2015 aboard a Husqvarna with Team Laglisse.
Asked about the hardest part of stepping up to the Grand Prix paddock, Herrera said: “Most of the circuits are new, so it's harder to learn them for me.
“I think if you lose one day to learn them, it takes longer to be faster than those in front. On some circuits, [it was harder than expected], but on others, I've done well considering it was the first time I was there.”
Highs and lows
Indeed, Herrera’s first two appearances in the points came on tracks with which she was already acquainted – taking 15th at Catalunya and 13th at Aragon. But the 19-year-old excelled at several less familiar venues, too.
Phillip Island – a true rider’s circuit if ever there were one – was Herrera’s most convincing showing, as she took a career-best grid position of 11th and finished in the same place on a day where a number of title contenders hit the deck.
Those points promoted her to 29th in the championship – but it could have been so much better had she not been taken out at Assen by Niccolo Antonelli while running eighth, or crashed out of a lofty fourth place in the wet at Silverstone.
Despite those setbacks, the year was a solid foundation for 2016, when Herrera will be back at the Laglisse outfit on KTM machinery for a sophomore Moto3 campaign.
“I'm happy with my performance, and I think I can do well next year,” she reflected. “It's important to be at the same team, and we'll take another step on the tracks where I was fast, while improving on the others.”
The long wait
Just one female rider has ever ridden in the premier class – the American Gina Bovaird, who failed to finish her only 500cc race at Nogaro in 1982.
While several others have since raced in the lower classes with more success, including Tanu Rinne, Tomoko Igata and Katja Poensgen, none have stuck around for more than a couple of seasons.
Does Herrera picture herself being the rider to end the 33-year wait for a female to race at the highest level?
“For every rider their dream is to reach MotoGP,” she admitted. “But I'm focused on winning in Moto3, and then take the steps and I'll think about it.”
Asked why she thinks there are so few girls in motorcycle racing, Herrera believes it’s because they focus too much on being the best girl in any given competition – instead of striving to beat the boys.
“I think girls tend to compare themselves with each other, and maybe that's why they don't improve,” she explained. “Maybe that's why they find it harder.
“I've always compared myself with the men, and I've been improving based on their times, not on other girls.”
With her compatriot Carrasco out of a ride for 2016, Herrera will be the sole female among a very strong Moto3 field. But, with a year of experience under her belt, she should be able to add some sorely-needed consistency to her clear raw speed, and become a regular Top 10 threat.
If she’s able to do that, perhaps we could begin to talk seriously of the prospect of a female rider reaching the highest echelon of motorcycle racing once again.