Women and road racing. They are not many, but of high value. They took podiums and wins, they made history. One above all, the lovely Maria Costello.
Born in Northampton in 1973, Maria Costello is synonymous of road racing, with her twenty-year span career. “Elvis”, that’s her nickname, makes her debut on Ellan Vannin at the 1996 Manx Grand Prix, landing at the Tourist Trophy three years later with a disastrous debut: however, a number of broken bones don’t stop Maria, who manouvres herself between the British Superstock Championship and the Isle of Man the following years. The first podium on the Mountain Course arrives in 2005 with a third place in the Ultralightweight Manx GP.
From then on, Costello decides to taste almost every road racing track, from North West 200 to Southern 100, from Scarborough to Mid Antrim, to Ulster GP, Cookstown, Skerries, Walderstown, Armoy and so on.
It takes her little time to write her name in the history of motorcycling as the fastest ever woman on the Mountain Course, a record that lasted from 2004 to 2009.
This year Maria stood on the podium of the glorious Senior Classic TT, third at the checquered flag with the Paton 500 Team Beugger. A real triumph.
Between her following many commitments, Maria is going to debut on three wheels as well, on a Sidecar. A real “woman on a mission”, as she likes to describe herself, also honored as MBE in 2009 for her motorcycling merits.
If one talks about pure road racing and women he surely thinks about Maria Costello. You are a symbol, Maria, but how difficult it has been for a woman to become a professional motorcycle racer in a man-ruled environment?
My career spans 20 years so I have been on a long journey in this sport. I have been met by so many challenges from starting out to remaining in the sport for so long, but they are not all gender related. Initially I may have used the negative motivation to ‘show the boys’ that women can do this and maybe that does still happen but the sport is tough for anyone, whatever your gender. What I did find was something that I loved (although not always, sometimes, after broken bones and psychological barriers, I persevered not knowing why, but I’m glad I did). I feel fortunate to have found something that I love, it’s given me so much in my life, it has made me who I am. I have grown within it and now I understand I’m in a very unique place where I can give back to the sport and especially to other women who race or who want to ride motorcycles. I’ve written a book about my racing career, but it needs to be up-dated as I see the sport differently now and I’ve learned that more people need to be educated about the fact that women can have careers in motorcycle racing.
You are also a very precious ambassador of female riders with your other activity, “Woman on a motorcycle”. Do you think there is a consistent number of women wishing to compete on the Mountain Course or not yet?
It’s growing. I’m seeing more women take to road racing but it’s still small numbers and this is why we need to protect the Manx Grand Prix as an entry level for women coming through as the TT is almost out of reach, regards qualifying for beginners in real road racing.
You have been the fastest ever woman on the Mountain Course from 2004 to 2009. What do you think is missing to retake this title?
The opportunity to race a competitive 1000cc at the TT.
Why have you competed with the 600cc only in recent years? Has it anything to do with the budget?
I’ve concentrated on my Kawasaki Supertwin and BMW Superstock bikes the past few years and now I’m in the process of planning my 2017 season, but at the moment, apart from the Supertwin, things are still in discussion. More budget would of course enable me to do more.
Let’s now talk about your great performance at 2016 Classic TT. You achieved your second podium on the Isle of Man, is this right? What did you feel standing on that podium after 11 years?
My first ever podium around the TT course was when I made history by becoming the first woman to stand on the podium in a race around the TT course. That was on a Honda RVF400 at the Manx Grand Prix. I’ve since finished third on a Classic 250, after pushing in from Governer’s Dip, at the Manx Grand Prix. I also finished third in class in the 250 Classic TT, again on the Bob Jackson Suzuki T20, but this class is over looked and doesn’t get a proper podium anymore. I also took the win in this class this year despite my 4 minute delay after stalling the bike at the start and having to push it the length of the pits before we could get it going again. So I’ll leave you to work out how many I’ve had, but what I do know is that the Senior Classic TT podium is one of the highlights of my career and one of my proudest moments on the TT course. I felt on top of the world.
How did you start dealing with the Swissman Peter Beugger?
I met Peter & Barbara at the Sloakia Ring, where, thanks to Sebastian Gutsch & Claus Clausen, I’d been invited to test ride classic bikes from the BMW Museum in Munich. I spotted the Paton in the paddock, I was introduced & I even rode the bike and signed it’s tank. Then in a following email I asked if they would be interested in letting me race it at the Classic TT. They agreed and we got an entry with moments to spare. That year I was leading the privateers class by 2 minutes when it broken down on the last lap. We followed that up with a 5th place two years ago but the podium this year was an incredible result for us all. I can’t thank them enough for all that they do. Peter races the bike himself and he’s an incredible engineer, he’s developed the bike over the years and they drive all the way from Switzerland with it every year. It felt great to repay them with the podium finish. I really feel like they are family to me.
Is there a race you would like to compete in one day?
More classes at the TT, more classes at the Classic TT (I’d love a 350) Macau and any other road races across the globe I haven’t had the pleasure to compete at yet!
Which is the main difference between riding on the roads and on short circuits from a psychological point of view?
From my perspective it’s different but when you look at the likes of Michael Dunlop I think the commitment is exactly the same on the roads as it is on circuits.
Thank you very much Maria!