Supersport 300 World Champion Ana Carrasco Is Having Fun Again

“School came first. My whole life I have combined the classroom and track.”

Ana Carrasco in Jerez
Reigning Supersport 300 World Champion Ana Carrasco finished third in both races this past weekend at Jerez in Spain, 0.167 second back on Saturday from winner Marc García and, in a photo finish on Sunday, 0.048 behind winner and championship leader Manuel González. “I’m glad to be back on the podium and so close to the wins that I feel are coming,” Carrasco said.Courtesy of Kawasaki

Ana Carrasco is a 22-year-old law student at the Catholic University of Murcia in southeastern Spain who combines university study with defense of her FIM Supersport 300 World Roadracing Championship, a title she won by a single point in 2018, thereby becoming the first female rider in history to win a world championship on two wheels.

Carrasco began riding motorcycles at the age of three when her father, a racing mechanic for four-time Spanish Superbike champion José Davíd de Gea, bought a bike to be shared by Ana and her sister and brother. Between her first ride and her current status as defending world champion, she has battled injury, lack of sponsorship, and the inevitable problems of a female rider in a male-dominated sport.

For 2019, Ana has changed teams and her training methods. She now rides for Provec Racing, part of the same factory Kawasaki structure that supports four-time and reigning World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea and 2018 British Superbike Champion Leon Haslam, and she has now incorporated flat track into her training routine.

Did you practice other sports before you were bitten by the roadracing bug?

I’ve always been active in sports: tennis, football [soccer], basketball, swimming, but I always liked motorcycles more. When I was 12, I quit everything else to concentrate on racing.

How were you able to combine racing and school when you were little?

The family rules were clear. “You don’t pass, you don’t race.” School came first, and my whole life I have combined racing and school, the classroom and the racetrack, from grade school through high school and now with my university studies.

Jerez World SSP 300
Dorna held two World Supersport 300 races at Jerez to make up for the one it couldn’t run in Imola due to weather. Carrasco was third-quickest in Italy and eighth but only 0.78 second back from the winner in round 2 of the series at Assen in Holland.Courtesy of Kawasaki

Now you are studying law at UCAM. How do you manage that during the season?

That is tough during the season because usually if I am not racing I am training. I do my studying during the summer break and over the Christmas and winter break. Once the season is on, I don’t crack a book because I have to stay centered on racing. I am fortunate that my university is flexible and allows me to take exams in the off-season.

Being a professional rider must affect all aspects of your life. Is it difficult?

At my age, I have to take advantage of every moment to achieve in sports all that I can. When I quit racing, there will be time for other things. Being away from my family and unable to live the life that people my age live is no hardship for me because I am doing what I love. I wouldn’t change it for anything.

In 2013, when you scored your first Moto3 world championship points in Malaysia and then when you had your first top 10 in Valencia, how did all the attention you attracted affect you?

That year was a lot of fun. It was very hard to get into the points. The level of the championship was very high. Many of the riders I raced with are now in MotoGP. It was my rookie year, and I had Maverick Viñales as my teammate! My goal in 2013 was to get into the points, and once I got the first one it took a big weight off of me and I started getting better results, starting with the eighth place in Valencia. That race got a lot of media attention and helped keep me in the championship beyond 2013.

Ana Carrasco tying boots
Asked if she has any superstitions, Carrasco replied, “First, I put on my right boot and the same with gloves. I’ve done it for years, and if I ever forget and start with the left, I take it off and start over. It’s not a superstition; it’s a ritual that helps me get into race mode."Photos by Santi Diaz/Courtesy of Solo Moto magazine

How did that compare with the media storm your success in the World Superbike paddock caused?

It was different. Scoring in Moto3 was important but nothing like the sensation after winning the title in 2018, of eating in a restaurant and suddenly hearing my voice and looking up at the TV and seeing myself or hearing a TV commentator talking about me. During the last three years since my first win, I’ve started to get used to the attention.

Do you think people now consider you as another top rider or do they continue to see you as a woman in a man’s world?

I am now seen as a rider. From the moment that I set foot in the World Superbike paddock, I have felt like one of the riders. It was different in the MotoGP paddock. Over there they said, “Let’s see what this girl can do.” I got some good results my first year, but after that I couldn’t get on competitive teams with competitive bikes. On the other hand, when I got to the World Superbike paddock, I felt different. They saw me as one of the fastest and most experienced riders in Supersport 300, and now that I have won a world title I am not seen as that girl who was just starting out.

Your situation reminds me of that of Laia Sanz. Dakar Rally riders now recognize her as a strong competitor.

It is complicated when you show up and you are a woman and have to demonstrate that you are fast and you can win. It is hard to demonstrate that if they won’t give you a chance. I have never seen myself as a girl who races; I am a racer, and my job is the same as everyone else’s.

What was the most difficult time in your sports career?

When I had to leave the Moto3 world championship. The 2014 season was very hard because of the team and the bike. It was hard for me to accept that, with the bike and support I had, I couldn’t get better results. The next year I had collarbone and shoulder injuries. When I was out of the championship I thought, “What now?” I didn’t see any future. It took everything I had to get that far and then I had nothing. To come back from that was hard, and I had to find another path. I am where I am today because I refused to quit.

The next year you switched to Moto2 in the FIM CEV championship, but with very little backing.

I was coming from two disastrous years in racing, but I think all that made me grow stronger and taught me to overcome all that had happened and go back to the track aware of the options that still remained. In 2016, I changed championships and classes because I had no sponsorship and no other options. I got experience with a different kind of bike, but my bike was not competitive. It was like a continuation of what I had been experiencing. That was the moment when I thought about quitting. And then, over in the World Superbike paddock, I got a chance to ride in Supersport 300 and I took it.

Ana Carrasco and Judit Florensa
When Carrasco won her title, she and her brother and sister all got a tattoo to commemorate the championship. “I’ve been adding ink all along from my first points to my first win and my first title,” she said. “I didn’t get one for the first podium because my first podium was a win!”Photo by Santi Diaz/Courtesy of Solo Moto magazine

Now in 2019 your situation has changed completely. How does it feel to be in a structure built around you and under the wing of what is perhaps the best World Superbike team, KRT, and with factory support?

I appreciate it and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I had been having a very bad time over quite a few seasons. I started to get some help from Kawasaki at the end of the 2018 season while riding for the DS Junior Team and that let me fight for the title. To be part of Provec, with those people supporting me, with the help from Kawasaki, that’s priceless. I’m going racing with people who value me and who do everything they can to help me win. I’m happy in the World Superbike paddock.

Speaking of World Superbike, how do you see the arrival of Álvaro Bautista and the Ducati Panigale V4 R?

The arrival of Bautista is attracting many new fans, especially in Spain, and this will make the series grow. On the sporting side, the Ducati is a couple of steps above the rest and that affects [Kawasaki] directly. For me, Jonathan Rea is above Bautista as a rider, but under these circumstances it is hard for them to battle it out wheel to wheel. In the opening races, we saw Rea trying to offset those four-tenths he was losing every lap down the straights. I don’t want to take away merit from Bautista, but I’d like to see things more equal. We’d see very exciting races.

From the end of last season, we began to see Rea helping you. What advice was he giving you?

That depended on the circumstances, but having his advice helped—and helps—me a lot. For me, he is the best rider in the paddock, and I appreciate being able to ask him things or to have him drop by my garage to tell me that I was riding well or make a suggestion. Last year, he was helping me out when I was not on his team and I think he did it because he just liked me, liked what I was doing. Now we are on the same team and he is a great help. To take a lap of the track with him on Thursday [before a race weekend] is a big help toward coming down that first second. I think he is one of the five or six best roadracers in the world over all classes.

Flat Track practice with Ana Carrasco and Judit Florensa
Carrasco spins laps at Rocco’s Ranch in Barcelona with the author. What’s next, the Dakar Rally, like fellow Spaniard Laia Sanz? “That would be tough,” she admitted. “It’s spectacular, but the riders are used to navigating in that kind of setting. I’m used to circuits where I know what’s coming next, even where the bumps are and all the braking points.”Photos by Santi Diaz/Courtesy of Solo Moto magazine

How did you come to move from Murcia to Barcelona?

That came from the situation last year. Going into the last race of the year, we decided to make the move to Barcelona because in Murcia I was overwhelmed by all the attention. I went to breakfast and everybody asked me if I was going to win the title. I went to get some gas and it was the same. I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t go around all day like that. I needed to isolate myself. I decided to go to Barcelona, and I spent the week before at Magny-Cours [where she won the title] riding flat track at Rocco’s Ranch. I just rode and rode, and did what I wanted. That worked for me. After the season, [Provec Team Director] Guim Roda suggested I move to Barcelona. It was a big change but a positive one. I am near the team, near the workshop, like being in a family. It’s not the same to see the team members only at the track. Also, I can train every day at Rocco’s with Ricky Cardús. That helps me improve my riding in lots of ways. I had never ridden dirt track before.

How does flat track help you as a rider?

It makes you aggressive when it comes to handlebar-to-handlebar racing, especially at the end of the race. I had always done my training on paved tracks and that helped me maintain my pace over race distance, but in this class, you don’t win just by being consistent. There are sometimes 15 in a group of riders battling right down to the last lap, and to win you need a little luck, a little better plan for the last lap, and you have to know how to fight in complicated situations. Flat-track training teaches you to improvise and ride aggressively.

How has Supersport 300 changed over the last two years?

It has grown and the factories are more involved. There are now twice as many riders at the front, and a little mistake can leave you out of the fight. There are really good races for the fans because there can be 15 or 20 of us finishing within two seconds. You don't get that even in MotoGP.

What has changed about the Ana Carrasco who showed up in 2017 and today’s Ana?

The first year was one of transition, adaptation, regaining confidence, and beginning to have fun again after those bad years. I found myself again, once again believed I could win. Now I am one of the fastest riders in the class, I carry the number-one plate with the pride of a world champion. I have support and I go to the track knowing that I can win and that on Sunday my bike will be one of the best. I’m having fun again.

Have you thought about the future, about moving up to Supersport 600?

For now, we are not thinking ahead. When we get to the last two months of the season, we’ll start talking. My priority is to stick with Kawasaki and in the World Superbike paddock. I want to keep going up.

How about in the “distant” future? Would you like to try something different?

I’d like to take a shot at cars. Last year, I tested a Formula 4 and it was good. I loved it, but I see all that a long way off. When I quit bikes, I’m sure I’ll do something with cars.

Mara Soto, Eva Blánquez, Judit Florenza, Ana Carrasco, and Txell Baró
Unstoppable Ana: Carrasco’s fan club is nicknamed the “pink warriors,” and her motto is “ride like a girl.” From left to right: Kawasaki Racing Team mechanic Mara Soto, KRT communications manager Eva Blánquez, the author, Carrasco, and KRT graphic designer Txell Baró.Photo by Santi Diaz/Courtesy of Solo Moto magazine

You have become something of an icon, someone a lot of people look up to. Who are the riders you admire?

I always admired Daijiro Kato, Casey Stoner, and Valentino Rossi, the riders I watched on TV when I was little. Now I don’t idolize any particular rider or athlete but I admire the best, whether we're talking about racing or tennis, etc. I analyze what the best do and try and see how I can apply that to me. I don't think there is a perfect rider. Rossi has his points, Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, and, in Superbike, Rea.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself when you were 15?

I’d say, have fun, Ana! You enjoy sports a lot when you are young, when it is a hobby. But things change when you go professional and the pressure comes. You have to enjoy those years when riding is diversion, when it’s pure fun. The injuries and the complication come later in time.

Would you like your kids—your kids in the future—to tell you they wanted to race motorcycles?

If I could choose, I’d prefer they didn’t. I wouldn’t change anything that I have lived, but there are a lot of things that if you can avoid them, you should. If my future kids were to ask for my help in racing, I couldn’t say no because I’ve been racing since I can remember. I’d help them, but I’d prefer not to.

Your team has a strong female element. For starters, your mechanic is Mara Soto. What is it like to work with her?

We work very well together, and I get along with my other mechanic, “Flecky” Rodriguez. We are a balanced team in every way; the experience and steadiness of the veteran and the push, the desire, and the joy of the young. We have a great team environment.

One of the keys to Rea’s success is that tight nucleus of that indestructible group of the Provec team headed by Pere Riba. Have you also built a strong family group around you?

Our group is smaller but similar with Jordi Caparrós, Mario López, Ricky Cardús, Mara, and Flecky. We get along great and we are together every day, we trust each other, and we can talk about anything. This kind of union helps get results on the track.

Journalist, World Superbike television commentator, and motorcycle test rider Judit Florensa writes for Spanish monthly Solo Moto.