Motorsport evens field for female competitors

TAYLA RELPH

Many elite sports create a firm gender gap, with male and female athletes competing separately. But motorsport is different, allowing female athletes to compete in the same events as their male counterparts.

Shelby Turner and Avalon Biddle 2019 Sydney 5 Hour Endurance Race

Shelby Turner (left) and Avalon Biddle (right) were the only all-female duo in the Sydney 5 Hour Endurance Race’s 90-minute production endurance category. Photo: Tayla Relph

 

Why? Because gender does not define an athlete’s ability to perform on the track.

Yet despite this apparent level of equality in the sport, the number of professional female motorsport road racing competitors remains small, not just in Australia but worldwide.

This year, there are only four women racing at an international level, including Spaniard Ana Carrasco who, in 2018, became the first female to win a World Championship in the Supersport 300cc class.

Similarly, in the current Australian Superbike Championship, there are 71 competitors, and only four of them are female.

Two of those competitors are Queensland’s Shelby Turner and New Zealand’s Avalon Biddle, who recently teamed up to take part in Australia’s annual Sydney 5 Hour Endurance Race, forming the event’s first ever all-female team in the production class.

The event, which takes place in late July, sees some of the nation’s fittest elite road racers team up in the hope of taking the overall win.

The event boasts a production class that is made up of 300cc to 400cc production-based machines of all makes and models.

At this year’s event, 27-year-old Shelby Turner and 26-year-old Avalon Biddle finished second out of 29 teams in the 90-minute 400cc production endurance race, and 11th overall in the combined 300cc and 400cc class.

Avalon Biddle preparing the Kawasaki 400cc for team mate Shelby Turner

Avalon Biddle prepares the Kawasaki 400cc for team mate Shelby Turner, before the commencement of morning warm-up at Sydney Motorsport Park. Photo: Tayla Relph

 

Both the team-up and the pair’s placement in the race could be considered history-making events in a sport where women are still working hard to make their presence felt.

Another two women, Australians Laura Brown and Stephanie Kapilawi-James, also competed in the production class of the Sydney 5 Hour Endurance Race, however both women partnered with male competitors for the event.

Sydney 5 Hour Endurance Race organiser Michael O’Brien said it was important to have high profile elite and international female competitors take part in the event.

“The aim of the [endurance] championship is to allow anyone who wants to race… to race,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Something I really like about female racers is how they compete on the same level as males, which is so different to other sports,” he said.

Avalon Biddle said she and Shelby Turner felt the other competitors at the Sydney 5 Hour Endurance Race took them seriously.

“The boys took Shelby and myself seriously… we asked other teams for advice regarding bike set up and they were very reluctant in providing us with information,” Ms Biddle said.

“I think they saw us as a threat and, in a way, this does show how far women in motorsport have come over the past few years and I do believe this comes down to the increase in female motorsport role models across the world,” she said, referring to last year’s first ever female world championship winner.

Avalon Biddle racing her Yamaha R6 at Morgan Park Raceway

Avalon Biddle races her Yamaha R6 at Morgan Park Raceway for round four of the Australian Supersport 600cc Championship. Photo: Motorcycle Pics

 

Ms Biddle is no stranger to motorcycle racing, having made her mark in motorsport at events all around the world.

She said the multiple top 10 finishes she had achieved in the European Junior World Cup were more important to her than being known as the fastest female competitor on track.

“I won the FIM [Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme] European Women’s World Cup,” Ms Biddle said.

“Personally, I would rate my top 10 finishes overall in the world championship to be a much better feeling for me than winning the [FIM] European Women’s World Cup.”

Ms Biddle has lived and raced internationally for many years, including in the World Supersport 300cc category, but returned home to New Zealand in 2018.

In April this year, Ms Biddle broke yet another barrier in motorsport, becoming the first female to win the New Zealand Supersport 600cc Championship.

“It was by far the best feeling ever to win the national [NZ] 600cc Championship, because up until that stage I wasn’t sure if it was something I would ever be able to achieve,” Ms Biddle said.

“I thought for me to ever win a national title would have just taken a bit of luck, like a race where lots of people crashed or a difficult wet race to make it happen,” she said.

“[But] I rode my heart out and managed to win the championship.”

Ms Biddle’s history-making championship title win opened many doors for her road racing career.

Biddle was soon contacted by Cube Performance team owners Ben Henry and three-time World Superbike Champion Troy Bayliss, with an offer to compete for their team in the Australian championship.

Shelby Turner

Shelby Turner (left) became the first female to win a Supersport Over 300cc Australian Championship race in late 2016. Photo: Tayla Relph

 

The Biddle and Turner duo formed several months ago, when Ms Biddle first travelled to Australia in April.

“Shelby and I are both involved with the Cube Racing Team, whom I’m racing for in the Australian [Superbike] Championship,” Ms Biddle explained.

“Shelby asked me a few months ago if I would be keen on racing the 90-minute endurance with her and, to her surprise, I jumped on the opportunity considering we are racing at Sydney Motorsport Park in November for Nationals,” she said.

Ms Turner said endurance racing could be a daunting prospect.

“I would imagine most females would find endurance racing quite a daunting thing to do,” Ms Turner said.

“It took me over 20 years [of racing] to enter this race, I am only wishing that I did it sooner,” she said.

“Teaming up with someone as experienced as Avalon made the experience all the better, it was the best fun I have had in a long time.”

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