Katja Poensgen insisted she is just like the other guys when she made her debut Friday as the first woman Grand Prix rider for six years. The 24-year-old German, who stepped up from Superstock racing in Europe to the 250cc class of the world’s premier motorcycling tour, failed to qualify in the first practice for Sunday’s season-opening Japanese Grand Prix. “I’ve raced since I was 18 years old. I’ve been almost always the only woman so for me it’s nothing new,” said the daughter of a former motocross and endurance rider about being the only woman in the pack. “What I feel inside is the racing heart and I feel the same like every other racer, all the boys,” she said in an interview.
“When I am on the bike I will try to go fast and faster. When I am in the race track I want to overtake everybody who is in front of me.” Poensgen became the third female rider ever to race in the 52-year history of Grand Prix racing and the first to challenge the intermediate 250cc class. There were two full-time famale GP racers before her. Finland’s Taru Rinne raced in 1988 and 1989 and Tomoko Igata of Japan in 1994 and 1995, both of them in the 125cc. The best finish for both of them was seventh place. Poensgen, a Barwell resident, clocked 2min 18.262sec on an Aprilia in her time attack, 11.576sec off the best lap time of Japanese Honda rider Daijiro Katoh. She ranked next to last in the 34-strong field. “I am very happy with my time because we didn’t think I can go under 20,” said the German, her blonde hair tied into a ponytail. Her GP career got off to a tough start. She would have raced for the British Umoto Aprilia team with Ulsterman Jeremy McWilliams. But Umoto could not find enough sponsors to afford a second driver and Katja was recruited only four weeks ago by Dark Dog Racing Factory Team with Alexander Hofmann. The combat-tested woman, 170cm (5ft8), 60kg (132 lbs), has also struggled to adapt herself to the two-stroke 250cc Grand Prix machine, quite different from the 750cc monster she used to ride on European Superstock races, a sidekick for the Superbike tour. She said she would take the season’s first two races as a test. “For me, this is a learning year. I’d like to qualify in all races and I would like to finish races so I can learn much. “Of course, I want to finish in top 10 one day. Maybe, in four years,” said the part-time motocross rider. “But it’s difficult to say.” She has come a long way after seeing bike races with her father when she was four. She persuaded her parents to invest in her first race bike — a 125cc Suzuki — when she was 14. Three years later, she became the first female to win the Junior Cup in Germany and started competing the German 125cc next year. She finished second once and finished in the top five three times in the European Supersport series and moved up to Superstock in 2000.