English translation below!
Going to the North West 200 for the first time can be quite intimidating. It’s a huge event with 100.000+ spectators and a lot of big names on the grid, is broadcasted live worldwide and the circuit itself has a ‘straight’ (including bumps, small jumps, and faint turns) where even on the Superbike you’re at top speed for over 20 seconds. Add to all this that I was the only woman on a 1000, and had only ridden 4 sessions on my ZX-10R this season…
Tuesday morning right before newcomers practice I got properly nervous for a moment. I hadn’t done a single lap yet, but on the pre-grid was already searched out by BBC for a live interview, and everywhere I looked there was someone with a camera aimed at me. Still the first laps went well of course, after which I felt like myself again. Subconsciously though my peace didn’t return until after the big fan day on Friday; from the moment of arriving in the paddock until that evening I had to force feed every single meal. I didn’t expect to be that affected by nerves, but it would’ve had to do with the expectations I put on myself. From BSB I’m used to lots of spectators and a big media presence, but never had I experienced every single person’s attention focused on me. Beyond this I was very well prepared through studying onboard videos and doing laps in the car with Peter Hickman. De ‘pre-season test’ in form of IRRC Hengelo went well too. We were able to solve some electronics issues, and on the Sunday in race 2 I improved my personal best from 2017 by 3,5 seconds. Gear wise everything was good too, my new HJC RPHA-11 helmets are perfect, I was back riding in my favourite suit and finally managed to get my hands on my dream boots by Sidi (that luckily were in stock at Chromeburner in Waalwijk, on route from home to Hengelo).
The remainder of the first practice day at the NW200 didn’t quite go as hoped. My goal was to break the fastest female record in my first session, however after two laps the session was red flagged, unfortunately due to a crash from Johan Fredriks with terrible consequences. During the second session the circuit was wet, leaving me unable to improve my laptime. Thursday went better: I broke the record with ease, became the first woman – ever – to qualify for the Superbike class (on a Superstock bike), and finished 21st in my first international road race that evening. Time to celebrate!
Life in the North West 200 paddock is stressful. There’s barely any time between the sessions, but they’re also almost always delayed for an unknown period of time, which means you constantly have to wait on edge. However, life in this paddock is a lot of fun too. Those intimidating bigger names are actually incredibly nice guys. For example, we had an issue with our rental car, so William Dunlop gave us a ride to the supermarket. Very cool! Added to that the view is beautiful, especially when you stroll down the coast to the restaurant/bar during sunset. Every night nearly everyone who has anything to do with the event, from riders to fans, comes together in The Anchor. Throughout the week I among other things experienced some karaoke I’d rather erase from my memory, witnessed someone pick a playing card up from the floor without using his hands – and with both feet on the floor, and struck a conversation with ‘cute doctor’. Don’t worry, the nights ahead of practice and race days I’m always in bed on time.
Saturday came around much too soon, the big race day with for us 3 races on the schedule: two Superbike and one Superstock race. I was really excited, completely myself again after the insane amount of support from the fans on Friday. Sadly, it turned out not to be my day. During the first Superbike race I had issues with my front brake, and had to come in after 4 laps. Next in Superstock I got hit on lap 1 by a rider who apparently forgot to brake on time. I could just about stay on track, but lost touch with the group I belonged with. Still I managed, all on my own, to put in a beautiful fastest lap of 4:45.2. The second Superbike race ended, after false neutral in the worst spot around the entire circuit, with 120 km/h against a curb. I got away with an extremely painful and swollen leg, the bike with a damaged exhaust, rear wheel and swingarm. We’re both working on recovery – myself thanks to Barry Veneman with the help of a good physio at Papendal (Dutch Olympic village) – for the next IRRC race, and I very much want to return to the NW200 next year to make things right! The second person on scene after my crash was cute doctor by the way, turns out his name is Alastair.