Once banned from the world championship, women now have their own global series

Motorcycle News

History was made at Misano last weekend when crashes, injuries and bad blood between top riders proved that women’s motorcycle racing isn’t much different to men’s

WSC podium at Misano

History maker: Maria Herrera won both races at the first WCR round – this is the race two podium, with second-placed Sara Sanchez (left) and Ana Carrasco (right)


It’s been a long road for women motorcycle racers…

In October 1962 the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme) banned women from racing in motorcycling’s solo world championships. This was the governing body’s reaction to the ambitions of Briton Beryl Swain, who planned to enter the 1963 50cc world championship, which would’ve made her the first female world championship rider.

When news reached the FIM the reaction was swift. Count Giovanni Lurani Cernuschi and his sporting commission were against women going racing, fearing that “if there was a fatal accident the publicity for the sport would be too bad”. Strangely, this fear didn’t apply to female sidecar passengers.

“One of my motivations is to encourage other women to chase their dreams”

Swain appealed the decision, only to be told, “No one would like to think about such a charming person getting hurt in a motorcycle race”. As a result, she quit a promising racing career.

There’s no evidence of this rule having been overturned, so most likely it was quietly forgotten as the FIM moved with the times and adopted a more progressive attitude.

Since then plenty of women bike racers have made history. In 1989 Finn Taru Rinne became the first woman to score world championship points and lead a GP, the West German 125cc race at Hockenheim. In 2001 German Katja Poensgen became the first female to score points in a 250cc GP. In 2018 Spaniard Ana Carrasco became the first woman to win a road-racing world title, in the SSP300 class.

And at Misano last weekend Maria Herrera won the first-ever all-women’s world championship races in the WCR (FIM Women’s Circuit Racing World Championship), a one-make series that uses Yamaha R7 twins and runs alongside the World Superbike Championship.

The FIM’s world series is the next step from the FIM’s Women’s European Championship, established in 2020, which uses SSP300 bikes.

Maria Herrera leads in Misano WSC round

Herrera leads Carrasco, Neila, Sanchez and Roberta Ponziani in Sunday’s second race – all ride identical Yamaha R7s


In recent years there’s been lots of debate about the rights and wrongs of a women-only road-racing championship, even though a women’s motocross world championship has been going for twenty years. Many female road-racers would prefer to continue racing with men, but they also see the benefits of having their own series, because it increases visibility, which should encourage more women to have a go at bike racing.

“I don’t feel like there’s a need for a women’s-only championship, but we can use it to motivate other women,” says Mallory Dobbs, the only American in WCR. “That’s always one of my motivations in what I do – to encourage other women to chase their dreams and do what they love, whether it’s motor sport or not.”

“WCR gives us an opportunity we wouldn’t otherwise have and I think the sport needs to appeal to a wider demographic and get more people involved.”

Dobbs scored a point in Sunday’s second WCR race after crashing out of the first while chasing a top-ten finish.

All weekend the action was frantic, with two red flags in race one. Norwegian Mia Rusthen sustained a serious head injury when she crashed out and later underwent surgery to resolve a brain bleed and intracranial pressure. She remains in hospital in a stable condition.

Herrera followed up her opening victory with another win on Sunday, but she had to fight for it on both occasions. In race one she had a no-holds-barred duel with Carrasco. The pair don’t get on and will most likely be even less friendly after their last-lap collision.

On Sunday Herrera got the better of a four-way battle. This time her biggest rival was Sara Sanchez, who she beat by just 0.085 seconds, while Carrasco battled chatter problems to take third from Beatriz Neila, winner of every Women’s European Championship so far.

Mallory Dobbs in WCR race

Sekhmet Racing’s Dobbs crashed out of the first race and scored a point in the second

Sehkmet Racing

Crashes, injuries and obvious hostility between top riders – WCR has already proved that women’s racing isn’t much different to men’s.

On the other hand…

“The atmosphere is definitely a little different,” adds Dobbs, who rides for the UK-based Sekhmet team. “So far it’s great and we’re all getting to know each other. But we were pretty stressed over the weekend because there’s a lot of pressure – we’re on the world stage and we all want to do well.

“At the sharp end of any sport you get people who aren’t very nice, so to me the outstanding ones are those that are nice and humble. It was really cool to meet Maria [Herrera] and talk to her about riding and racing. I asked her a lot of questions and I feel like she’ll be a great resource. She’s a very accomplished racer and it’s cool that she’s willing to help and be supportive.”

From the archive

Several WCR contestants ride for well-established World Superbikes or MotoGP teams, which gives them access to top-level technical support, rider coaching and other expertise.

Neila, for example, rides for the Pata Prometeon Yamaha team, so she can ask for advice from its WSB stars Jonathan Rea and Andrea Locatelli. This kind of input will give WCR riders a unique chance to improve their riding and racecraft.

Some fans may already have noticed another similarity between WCR and bike racing in general – Spaniards and Italians dominated at Misano, taking the first five places in both races.

This is largely a factor of national sporting cultures. Herrera and Carrasco started racing when they were kids, while Dobbs didn’t start until she was 23, a year after she rode a motorcycle for the first time. The 30-year-old civil engineer started out contesting novice and Formula Female events before moving into the MotoAmerica Supersport and Super Hooligan series.

Dobbs’ ambition is to move into World Supersport 600, underlining the fact that WCR doesn’t need to be the final goal of female motorcycle racers.

The next WCR races take places at the British WSB round at Donington Park on the weekend of 13/14 July.

The 2024 FIM Women’s Circuit Racing World Championship

Round Date Location
Round 1 14-16 June Misano World Circuit, Italy
Round 2 12-14 July Donington Park, UK
Round 3 9-11 August Autodromo Algarve, Portugal
Round 4 23-25 August Balaton Ring, Hungary
Round 5 20-22 September Cremona Circuit, Italy
Round 6 18-20 October Jerez Circuit, Spain


Motor Sport would like to send a message of support to Mia Rusthen and her loved ones.