IRRC Hengelo // 6-7 May

Coming into the first round of IRRC, the team and I had little to no expectations results wise. Not because we didn't think I wouldn't be able to do well, but because it was our first road race; and before putting on any pressure, we wanted to see if I'd be comfortable racing on the roads. We purposely chose not to enter the BeNeCup Superbike class for extra practice, as that would mainly make for a lot of rushing about, versus me having plenty of time to process every session.

 The dream team (minus Stefan, who didn't arrive until Saturday evening)

The dream team (minus Stefan, who didn't arrive until Saturday evening)

Arriving at the circuit on Friday was somewhat of a culture shock compared to BSB. We were handed our passes and told “just pick a spot, anywhere”... Luckily we found some room next to a British team, and still felt somewhat at home. The other big difference we found during the weekend, is that at Hengelo the time schedule is meaningless beyond the order of the classes, and when there's a delay even the announcer doesn't update the paddock on a new starting time. When you drink a lot of water as a rule, and have to take all of your gear off to go pee, this can sometimes be an issue.

Newcomers practice on Saturday morning went well, I passed a couple people meaning at the very least I wasn't gonna be last. In Q1 I took my time to explore the track and find some markers, while riding around brake fade. Near the end of the session I came in to adjust the brake, then had time for 1 more lap. I knew I could put a fast one together, and ended up taking 3 seconds off my fastest lap until that point. I knew that again I could do a lot better in Q2, I felt more comfortable and did improve my time, but so did everyone else, so I still qualified in 25th postition.

 Pure focus in Q1; going back out for 1 fast lap after adjusting the brake lever. (photo by Geja Tinke)

Pure focus in Q1; going back out for 1 fast lap after adjusting the brake lever. (photo by Geja Tinke)

Saturday evening all the IRRC riders had to meet up for a group photo. My team and I found that most of the others definitely weren't quite used to having a woman as a competitor, and I/we mainly got a lot of stares with no one really saying hi. When the group was separated for a supersport and superbike shot, one of the riders even told me I was with the wrong group, because “this is superbike”. Funnily enough it turned out I'd qualified ahead of him, and he proceeded to ask for a selfie. We had a good laugh about this with the team during our BBQ, and then got a good night's sleep ahead of race day.

Race 1 as usual I messed up the start, then had to ride my ass off in the first lap to gain back some easy positions. After the field settled, I was able to pick off another couple riders (usually in by now my favourite overtaking spot; the last corner in full view of pit lane and the grandstand), and then slowly gained on a little pack of two in front of me. On the last lap I was finally able to catch up to them, and went for a last corner pass. I hit a false neutral on the downshift and because I left braking so late, couldn't get the bike in gear anymore, so had to coast round the corner – touching knees with the other rider. As I then kicked my ZX10 into 2nd gear, I thought for sure I'd lose the run down the line, but by some miracle I made it across first (in 22nd). Around that moment is probably when I truly fell for this road racing thing.

Race 2 I sadly can't say the start went much better, but I did get out of the first lap in a better position. For most of the race I led a group of 3 and it was a little nerve wracking. I was dealing with bad arm pump at this stage, and knew because of it I wouldn't be able to ride fast enough to open up a gap (Hengelo has a lot of slipstream opportunities). Therefore I decided to manage the arm pump, and let one of the others lead for the last couple laps, after which I'd make another last lap last corner pass. This plan was great in theory, until the rider in front of me had bike issues, blocked me, and let the other guy go on his merry way. Mr bike issues apparently didn't want to finish behind a girl, and nearly punted me off track 3 times in 3 corners before we got to a straight and I was able to just cruise by. I finished the race in 21st. Being the first woman to ever enter IRRC Superbike has its pros and cons.

 The last turn at Hengelo: my favourite overtaking spot (photo by Geja Tinke)

The last turn at Hengelo: my favourite overtaking spot (photo by Geja Tinke)