- Auto Racing - Biker in unique position

Friday, February 2
Biker in unique position

LONDON -- It is hard to imagine any other rider in the testosterone-fueled world of grand prix motorcycling recording a song entitled "I Got This Fire Inside."

Or of waiting in leathers on the starting grid with a man posing alongside in place of the customary scantily-clad "umbrella girls."

Germany's Katja Poensgen is different.

The song can be heard on her website (, although Aprilia Umoto team mate Jeremy McWilliams recommends sensitive souls do this alone while suspending their critical faculties.

Fans at the world superbike round in Assen in the Netherlands last season saw Poensgen attended by two "umbrella boys" before she muscled her 750cc Suzuki around the track in a supporting series.

She also has two posters of former world champion Kevin Schwantz on her bedroom walls at home.

In fact, as the only woman racing in grands prix this season, the 24-year-old 250cc rider is unique.

She is certainly the only rider to receive e-mails suggesting that she got her ride for 2001 only on the basis of her looks.

"I get 100 good e-mails and one bad e-mail," Poensgen said. "It was like 'You go in GPs only because you are a blonde girl and can smile at a camera'."

Poensgen ignores critics
"Last year, just for fun, I was umbrella girl for (500cc champion) Kenny Roberts at Sachsenring," she added.

The Suzuki team had asked her if she knew anyone to do the job. When Poensgen discovered the fee she decided to name herself because she needed the cash.

"I did the umbrella girl and I got a very bad letter from a man who said 'Yeah, you should do what you look good doing and be umbrella girl for real fast racers'."

But after eight years in bike racing Poensgen has got used to ignoring such criticism.

She is not the first woman to race in grands prix. A handful of others have tried to break the male monopoly over the years but none has made the podium and none has competed in the 250cc class before.

Finland's Taru Rinne competed in 125cc in 1989, finishing seventh in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim after running in third place for a while.

Poensgen's main aim is to qualify and secure some points but her past suggests she will be a serious competitor.

She won the German Junior Cup in 1995 and the European Supermono title in 1998, becoming the first woman to take a continental motorcycling title.

But it has not been an easy road.

"When I look back, the last eight years were hard sometimes," she said. "You have to handle the pressures and get back on the bike after a big crash.

"It's just not easy and maybe women are more afraid of breaking bones and having -- what do you call this?" she paused, pulling up her sleeve to reveal a scar.

"Maybe women are more afraid than men and that's why they don't want to race.

"For me it's a part of the job. The fun part is bigger than the pain part. That's why I keep going."

Poensgen's father -- she is probably also the only bike racer who litters her conversation with references to "Daddy" -- was a former motocross rider who later worked as Suzuki's official importer in Germany.

It was only a matter of time before the young Katja got into motorcycles, although her sister and brother showed little interest in racing.

"When I was a little girl I played always with the boys, I was a tomboy," said Poensgen. "I played with little Matchbox cars and my best Christmas present was a BMX bicycle when I was six."

"In '85 Daddy became team boss of Suzuki's German superbike team and he took me to some road races, to Hockenheim ... I watched and thought 'This is cool'."

She then became "a very difficult teenager," ignoring her father's advice to take up horse riding instead.

When she insisted, threatening to buy an Aprilia and race it, he took her to Spain for a test. For two days Poensgen was reluctant to get on the circuit but on the third she decided to give it a go.

"From that moment on I did not stop. I stopped only to fill the tank and change tires. I got off the bike in the evening and I said 'Daddy, this is it'."

Her first season, in 1993, was a rude awakening.

"I finished always last or second-last but inside I thought 'Just give me two more years and I'll beat you all'. Many people laughed about me in the first year ... but in the second year I finished on the podium in the last race.

"Then in '95 I won the championship."

Poensgen said she was not trying to be a role model for other women but wanted "just to show them that it's important to believe in yourself."

"Good luck to her," said McWilliams. "She's taken a great deal on board to come and race in a grand prix team.

"If she can just mix it and beat some of the guys then she's doing something right.

"It's very male dominated, it looks like it is and this is really a cat amongst the pigeons.

"I hope this helps make girls more aware that they can come and do it but I've seen a girl come and go before in 125 ... she could ride a bike but in the end it was the injury that she couldn't come back from."