WOMEN ON TWO WHEELS
FEMALE TT RACING
The Isle of Man TT track is famous worldwide for being one of the hardest motorcycle race tracks there is, a challenge to any rider who dares to take it on. Back in the day, it was only men who were able to attempt it, but there are women who are tough enough to face it and beat it too, like the superlative Maria Costello.
The first of this illustrious number was Beryl Swain, who in 1962, had the temerity to get on her Italian Itom 50cc Racer and achieve 22nd place on the 37 mile TT Mountain Course and live to tell the tale.
Born in London in 1936 Beryl married Eddie Swain, a motorcycle racer, in 1959. Working for Eddie in the pits when he raced, got Beryl hooked on two wheels, so she learned to ride and proved to be a natural. She went on to compete in motorcycle races at Brands Hatch and Snetterton, in the 50cc class. This was all in a time when women were not expected to do anything unladylike like motorcycle racing, so Beryl was a ground breaker. Entering the IOMTT after just three years of racing, Beryl finished the race and reached an average speed of 48.3 mph! Despite her obvious skill and courage, Beryl was not destined for a TT racing career as her achievement did not go down well in the male-dominated world of motorcycle racing. The TT course was deemed too dangerous for women and the possible death of a woman would be terrible publicity for the race, so her international licence was revoked via the introduction of a minimum weight limit which she could not meet.
This effective ban on women TT entrants was in force until Hilary Musson competed in 1978.
Beryl appeared on a contemporary TV programme called Sports View, making this telling comment which speaks volumes about what she was up against at the time:
“If you did happen to see SportsView you may remember that the announcer commented on the fact that I am always placed on the last row at Brands Hatch and as I usually come in with the first ten riders I should be placed on the second row, but I presume that because I am a woman I must be lucky that I am allowed to ride at all.”
From this faltering start, female TT racing has finally become accepted and racers like Maria Costello MBE are now choosing it as a career option.
In 2016 Maria Costello MBE was the first woman to gain a podium finish by completing the Mountain Course in the Classic 500cc TT race – the highest placed solo female in the history of the Classic TT. She also held the female lap record around the TT course for five years.
Maria has been racing for over 20 years now and, in recognition of her racing prowess, she was granted an MBE in 2009 for her contribution to women’s racing.
Making full use of all her invaluable experience, Maria is still competing at the highest level. To date, she has made TT history by being the first female competitor to compete in both the solo and sidecar classes on the same day in the 2019 race and is constantly improving her skills and speed. Maria and her sidecar passenger Julie Canipa achieved 17th place this year and increased their lap times yet again with an impressive fastest lap of 102.671.
As the first-ever female president of the TT Riders' Association in its 67-year history, Maria is determined to spread the word and get more women riding. She gives talks in schools to inspire girls and wants parents to encourage their daughters, not just their sons, to take up motorcycle racing. Finally, things are looking up for women in motorcycle racing so watch this space!
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