Four Women, Four Hours

Making history at Japan’s Suzuka Circuit.

Suzuka 4 Hours women team photo #7

A few all-female teams have competed in endurance races at Japan's Suzuka Circuit, but none of them have finished. This changed when a punky California tomboy, Melissa Paris, and a glamorous farm gal, Shelina Moreda, got a phone call this past June. Against all odds, the pair was going to Japan—as teammates—to race the Suzuka 4 Hours, and it was a fiery Finn and a Japanese motorcycle maven who made it happen.

Both Nita Korhonen and Midori Moriwaki come from racing families. Korhonen, director of the FIM’s new CFM (Women in Motorcycling) program, is the daughter of former Grand Prix rider Pentti Korhonen.

“I was really lucky to grow up surrounded by motorbikes and riders,” Korhonen said. “Racing has always been really important for me but naturally.”

Managing Director of Moriwaki Engineering, Midori is the daughter of Mamoru Moriwaki and her grandfather was Pops—as in the Pops—Yoshimura. Like Korhonen, she has overcome the challenges of working in male-dominated motorsports.

“My goal is to win a world title,” Moriwaki said. “My thoughts are fairly simple: I am focusing on whether we will be able to offer talented people—not only riders, but also others in motorsports—to go up the ladder.”

Korhonen and Midori saw an opportunity to make history with two talented women riders. While skeptics were sure Paris and Moreda would fail due to the physicality of the race, actual facts were also against the girls. They only had a few days notice and their one test with an unfamiliar machine—a Moriwaki-built Honda CBR600RR—was cut short due to an impending typhoon.

“Don’t worry, you are coming back,” Moriwaki told Moreda on the way to the airport, “In the end, everything will be alright.”

Between testing, practice, and qualifying, Paris and Moreda spent less time lapping the challenging Suzuka Circuit than they were scheduled to race. But what skeptics failed to consider is that females are biologically tuned to succeed in endurance events. By nature, women are more patient and relaxed under pressure. Maternal instincts and nurturing qualities are beneficial under extended stress.

Midori never even considered a DNF, and her cool resolve throughout the rushed madness and mishaps was infectious. “We carry the dream for normal people,” she said.

Not only did Paris and Moreda finish the race, after qualifying 59th out of 69 teams, they placed 28th. They will go down in the record books as the first female team to complete an endurance race at Suzuka. Hopefully, they won’t be the last.

Suzuka 4 Hours women team photo

Four women, four hours: Midori Moriwaki, Melissa Paris, Shelina Moreda, and Nita Korhonen.

Suzuka 4 Hours women team photo #2

“You see it so often, an attitude of ‘Look at me! I’m a girl!’” Paris said, posing with teammate Shelina Moreda and follow racer, Naoka Takasugi. “I mean, we are girls, but the next time a girls team shows up, I want them to be taken seriously, not like it’s a gimmick.”

Suzuka 4 Hours women team photo #3

“The way the Moriwaki team operates is really cool,” Paris said. “The team just does everything so smoothly. Even after I crashed in practice, there was never any panic. They just calmly handled the situation.”

Suzuka 4 Hours women team photo #4

“The Japanese fans are really enthusiastic,” Paris said. “They treat all of the riders like heroes.”

Suzuka 4 Hours women team photo #5

“There are people with so much talent,” Midori Moriwaki (middle) said, “yet the environment we are in often does not offer opportunities for them to present themselves. I hope that we will be able to continue to offer such chances to such people. The 4 Hours endurance race challenge with the lady riders originated with the same motivation and passion: chances for everybody.”

Suzuka 4 Hours women team photo #6

“Their professionalism, characters, and attitude were the main qualities that we thought would be good for our project,” Korhonen said about Paris and Moreda (shown).

Suzuka 4 Hours women team photo #7

“Suzuka Circuit is unreal,” Melissa Paris said. “It’s not like any other track. The only thing that could be better would be to come back and stand on top of the podium.”

Four women, four hours: Midori Moriwaki, Melissa Paris, Shelina Moreda, and Nita Korhonen.

?You see it so often, an attitude of ?Look at me! I?m a girl!?? Paris said, posing with teammate Shelina Moreda and follow racer, Naoka Takasugi. ?I mean, we are girls, but the next time a girls team shows up, I want them to be taken seriously, not like it?s a gimmick.?

?The way the Moriwaki team operates is really cool,? Paris said. ?The team just does everything so smoothly. Even after I crashed in practice, there was never any panic. They just calmly handled the situation.?

?The Japanese fans are really enthusiastic,? Paris said. ?They treat all of the riders like heroes.?

?There are people with so much talent,? Midori Moriwaki (middle) said, ?yet the environment we are in often does not offer opportunities for them to present themselves. I hope that we will be able to continue to offer such chances to such people. The 4 Hours endurance race challenge with the lady riders originated with the same motivation and passion: chances for everybody.?

?Their professionalism, characters, and attitude were the main qualities that we thought would be good for our project,? Korhonen said about Paris and Moreda (shown).

?Suzuka Circuit is unreal,? Melissa Paris said. ?It?s not like any other track. The only thing that could be better would be to come back and stand on top of the podium.?