In part one of our feature with former WorldSSP300 world champion Ana Carrasco, based on interviews with Carrasco by Israeli journalist and TV commentator Tammy Gorali, Carrasco spoke at some length about how becoming the first female rider to win an individual motorcycle road racing world championship had changed her life, and the effect it had on the wider world, both inside and outside of motorcycle racing. She discussed at great length with Tammy Gorali about what it means to be a woman racer, and a woman winning a championship.
In the second part of the feature, Ana Carrasco talks about her career as a rider, what her plans are, and what she would like to do in the future. She discusses her relationship with the team, and the bond she has developed with reigning five-time WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea. As a reward for winning the WorldSSP300 title, Carrasco was also given a chance to ride Rea's Kawasaki ZX-10RR, and Carrasco explained to Gorali how that felt, and the differences between a 400cc Kawasaki twin and a 1000cc four.
Tammy Gorali also asked Jonathan Rea, Rea's crew chief Pere Riba, and Carrasco's own crew chief, Nicola Sartori about the test, and how Carrasco fared on the bigger, much more powerful machine.
Looking to the future
But first, Ana Carrasco talked about her future. The Spaniard will be staying in WorldSSP300 for the 2020 season, though moving up into the World Supersport category had been an option. In the end, it was an option she had rejected, she said.
"I thought about moving category, but it needs to be at the correct time," Carrasco told Gorali. "Currently in the 600cc class, Kawasaki is not the best bike, so I prefer to wait until they have a bike to win. For example Lucas Mahias was fighting for the championship last year  and now he is struggling, so I think it's not the right moment as I do not wish to change factory. I would rather wait."
A move to Moto3 had also been an option, but Carrasco hadn't been convinced that would be the right move either. "I don't know, at the moment I want to stay here for at least one more year because I have a feeling we could win a championship again," she said. Another WorldSSP300 crown would strengthen her position. "We had bad luck this year so I want to try again, because I feel I could be a champion again. Only after we win the title I could try to move, and I don't know if Moto3 or 600 is the right way, but for sure the aim is to keep improving and we will look at what to do in 2021."
One factor motivating Carrasco's desire to move classes is simply wanting more races. At the moment, the WorldSSP300 calendar consists of just ten rounds. "I think the same number as the Superbike class would be perfect," Carrasco told Gorali. "Thirteen to fourteen races is quite a good number that gives the riders the opportunity to recover points if you many a mistake in any races. But I think this is the goal, this season we will have one race more than in 2019 and I hope that Dorna can increase it in the future."
A reason for the 2018 WorldSSP300 champion to move to World Supersport rather than Moto3 is to stay with Kawasaki. Carrasco is grateful for the support she has had from the Japanese factory. "They gave me the opportunity to win, they pushed for me and I am grateful for this," she said. "Without Kawasaki I would not have won the championship so I wish to stay with them as much as I can."
Carrasco has also benefited from having five-time WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea in the same structure. Rea has been a big help to Carrasco, and they have an excellent working relationship. "It's a relationship between colleagues," is how Carrasco describes it. "He started helping me in 2018. I think he loves the WorldSSP300 category and watches the races, so he pushes a lot for me."
Carrasco has learned a lot from Rea's feedback and perspective. "I try to learn as much as I can from him," she said. "And I do so all the time, because in my eyes, he is one of the greatest current riders out there and it is good for me to be close to him. In Jerez he came to the box ,told me to relax and to trust my instinct, because in this class you have to have a strategy, and I need to feel this and I find his words really useful."
That guidance, and the fact that Carrasco has such a strong team around her, means she hasn't felt the need for a sports psychologist or a mental coach just yet. "Not for the moment. I have a good atmosphere in the team, and I have good people around me who know how I feel, so at this moment that's enough for me."
"I am very lucky to have the support I have from the team, from my crew, from Kawasaki, from Johnny," she told Gorali. "It's very special. They treat me like a daughter and it's good to be in a team like that. They are my family now, we are working the same way, they give me everything I need to keep improving and I am very grateful for everything. They are always pushing so I have all the tools I need to win."
The atmosphere in the team is helped by Carrasco living so close to several members of the team. She shares a house with Mara Soto, her mechanic, who has also become something of a confidante. Soto was working for a motocross team, and heard about the project with Ana Carrasco through her Kawasaki connections. Soto found the idea of working with Carrasco interesting, and signed on to be her mechanic.
Carrasco and Soto share a house in Barcelona, close to the team headquarters, and near her rider coach Ricky Cardus. That allows them to start working together from very early in the year, preparing for the season to come. "We will start the season in January," Carrasco said.
Playing with the big bikes
Carrasco's team is part of the bigger Kawasaki Provec operation, which also runs the KRT WorldSBK program. That led the team to give Carrasco a go on Jonathan Rea's title-winning Kawasaki ZX-10RR at a test in Jerez earlier this year. The 220+ horsepower 1000cc machine was a very different beast indeed to Carrasco's Kawasaki Ninja 400.
"It was really nice," Carrasco told Gorali. "The experience was really good. It was my first time on a 1000cc bike, so it was really amazing to ride Jonathan's bike. It was impressive to feel the power, also the braking point, and how hard and good they are. The big difference is the way I have to ride, you have to stop more inside the corner, manage the power. Big difference from the Ninja 400…"
If the power was something she had been expecting, how stiff and responsive the chassis is was not. "What surprised me a little bit is how you feel every bump, every move," Carrasco said. "You can feel more than with the Ninja 400. It surprised me, as it is like the bike speaks a lot more to the rider. Easy to understand what you can do, because you can feel everything really well. The communication between the rider and the bike is different than with the Ninja 400. It feels harder (not in tough kind of way) so you get more feel, the bike transmits a lot more, like the bumps."
Was it physically more demanding? "My hands feel OK," Carrasco told Gorali. "For sure this bike is tougher to ride, but I think I can hold on to that bike for a full day. I think it would get easier every time you ride, because you can relax." Making a judgment based on a single day of riding was hard, though. "One day is not enough because you can improve a lot every session. I felt I was improving every lap and we did not change anything on the bike."
Radically different riding styles
The difference is speed was significant, as expected. "My top speed was exactly the same as Johnny's, 265 km/h on the back straight," Carrasco said. "On the Ninja 400, my top speed is 200 km/h, but the lap time I did was the same with the 1000." The track conditions after a night of rain were not conducive to switching to the bigger bikes. "It is difficult to go faster but the problem was wet parts on the track in some corners, so it was difficult to ride in those places. For example in corner 2, I had to go very slowly through the exit because there were water there. It's not easy to learn a new bike in the wet," Carrasco told Gorali.
The Spaniard was grateful for the chance to ride the ZX-10RR, however. "It was really special to ride the bike, they gave me opportunity and a present for this season so I am grateful they let me ride."
Carrasco had been given advice by Jonathan Rea on how to ride the Superbike. "He just explained the gears in all the corners, to know which lines to take with the bike around the track, the way to ride the bike, like the speed in the corners, opening the line. You can use all the track, when you should stop in the middle of the corner and then pick up the bike fast to be able to use the power it has. But I wasn't nervous today, it's a bike, that's all it is."
The bike Carrasco rode was exactly the same as Jonathan Rea won the championship on in 2019. Rea's crew chief Pere Riba prepared the Kawasaki ZX-10RR for her. "I didn't change anything, she tried the bike of Johnny, 100 % his bike," Riba told Tammy Gorali. "We moved the position of the fuel tank a little bit because she is shorter, but the target was not to move everything to make her feel comfortable, the target was just for her to feel the bike and to understand the power."
Riba was impressed with how Ana Carrasco had fared on her first outing on the bike. "The speed she did was very good, not far from the speed Johnny was doing, about 8km slower," Rea's crew chief said. "Her lap time was not fast, but with these kinds of bikes, fast and heavy, you need time to understand how to ride the bike, how to use the brakes, everything. The start was to feel and to enjoy."
Carrasco's WorldSSP300 crew chief Nicola Sartori assisted her as she made her debut on the Kawasaki ZX-10RR, and helped her to understand the difference between the two bikes better. "Essentially the difference between the two bikes is the horsepower," Sartori told Gorali. "Jonathan's bike is more than 200 BHP, and her Ninja 400 is like 40 BHP, five times less. So what you need to do with the Superbike compared to this one is you must understand your weak point, which is speed. So you need to take your corners really sharp and brake strongly in the middle of the corner, and then use all the power that you have to come out of the corner."
Riding the Ninja 400 was the opposite, Sartori explained. "With this kind of engine that does not have so much horsepower, in order to exit the corner you need to enter with really high corner speed. That's why in her first laps,m Ana was braking early to try to make round lines, really flowing around the corner, instead of braking, stopping, and accelerating, like she should be doing. But she needs to adapt."
Playing to the strengths of the bike
This is the challenge for anyone moving up to a 1000cc Superbike, Sartori told Gorali. "This is the main problem for a rider coming from the lowest category to the biggest one, to know how to use the advantage of the strength of the engine." Things improved as Carrasco got to grips with the ZX-10RR. "The second exit she went closer and closer to the correct line, she really improved, but in reality the lap time was not really fast. She can make the same time with the Ninja 400, but with a totally different riding style and this is clear indication that she needs to adapt more to this bike if she wants to go to the big bikes."
Jonathan Rea watched Carrasco's first outing an a 1000cc Superbike with interest. "Johnny and Ana have a special relationship, and they both enjoy watching what the other is doing in their category," Rea's crew chief Pere Riba said.
Had he been nervous watching Carrasco, Gorali asked the reigning WorldSBK champion? "No, not nervous at all, just really excited for her, because I remember getting my first ride on a new Superbike, something special, a MotoGP bike," Rea said. "It's really a nice feeling coming from the Ninja 400. The power difference is quiet a lot, and I was excited because somebody was riding my bike, and it was quite nice. I have a really good relationship with Ana, I am a fan of what she is doing, so it was nice to see her on my bike doing a few laps."
Rea had watched Carrasco from track side, to see if he could give her any tips, but the track had been damp in places, making it difficult to ride on the right line. "I watched her and felt bad for her, as the track isn't in a good condition and you can't use the racing line. The main thing was that she enjoyed it as there was nothing to gain really with 10 laps. It would have been nice if she could have a full day, because then she could start to understand the potential, she has some speed."
Does size matter?
Could Carrasco do a full season in the WorldSBK class, given her smaller size? "People talk about size being an advantage, because you have more power, more aerodynamics, but there are disadvantages to being too small, just like being too tall," Rea told Gorali. "Right now she is so perfect for the WorldSSP300 class, I think even Supersport would be a challenge, but her talent level is so high. Especially in the last years, how she manages the race in her mind. She made a huge step even from 2018 when she took the championship, and 2019 Ana was the best Ana we have ever seen."
"It was just bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and still she could have fought through the last race for the championship. As riders we cannot pick and choose what we do, we have to go with the opportunity," Rea said. "It would be nice to see her get a stepping stone though the championships. Last year she won the championship, and she was in the fight till the end last year. So what does she do now? She could well make a career of WorldSSP300."
Does Rea think Carrasco ought to move up to the WorldSSP class? "It really depends," Rea told Gorali. "My dream for her is to get a ride in a good team in Moto3, because I think her size fits that bike perfectly, and she has learned a lot being here. She has learned how important it is to have a good team of people, and I think in that paddock it's so easy to get it wrong. We have seen examples of good riders being in teams with, not bad people, but a bad atmosphere, and her current team, Provec, is one of the best, on the human side as well. She understands that, so let's see."
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