Over a year after her accident and spinal injury, Ana Carrasco talks us through her comeback journey, being the first-ever female world champion and the use of social media to document her daily battles – ahead of her 2022 return to the MotoGP paddock in Moto3.
Ana Carrasco is one of those names that you instantly associate with terms like perseverance, will power, determination. All values that defined the greatest sports heroes – the ones that remain in the popular imaginary for generations after achieving something truly extraordinary.
And Carrasco belongs to that small circle of special people, and not only for her on-track successes – which are impressive enough, having broken countless records in the sport and claimed the Supersport 300 World Championship title in 2018, an-all time first for a woman.
Ana Carrasco, 24-year-old from Spain, belongs to the greats because of her strength and efforts to return to that competitive peak after what could have been a life-changing injury, becoming an icon of a fast-moving sport that hardly gives second chances.
Over a year after her accident that resulted in a spinal injury, Ana Carrasco talks us through her comeback journey, her plans for the future, being the first-ever female world champion and also the use of social media to document her daily battles.
Racers Behind The Helmet writer Julia Trusewicz talked to the former PROVEC Kawasaki rider before her sensational comeback to the MotoGP paddock, as she announced to have joined the Moto3 class.
"Being the first [woman] maybe doesn't mean so much to me, but I understand it is very meaningful for the sport, for women, and the next riders that are trying to get into the world championship."
RACERS: How is your winter break going? How are you relaxing and getting ready for the next season?
Ana Carrasco: I've been training because, you know, I had that back injury, and I'm still recovering, so we keep doing my training, working with the physios, and trying to be ready for the next season.
R: And how is your back now? How are you feeling?
AC: I think I've been improving through all this year, but I'm still not feeling a hundred percent – I'm still having some pain and also some dizziness in the head, and racing is sometimes difficult to manage. But I'm improving – next season we'll start in April, so I will have to be my one-hundred percent.
R: 2020 and 2021 were a roller-coaster for you. It's been months since the accident that caused the back injury, and you made a great comeback. Are you satisfied with what you achieved in 2021 and with the progress you've made?
AC: Yeah. It's difficult, because the last seasons, in 2018, 2019, and 2020 before the injury – I was always fighting for the top positions, fighting for the victory and also for the title. So this season was hard for me because I wasn't able to fight as before. I have to be happy because I have improved a lot since the injury, doing the season. I was faster than in the past years, but it was also not the same. I can't be completely happy because I wasn't able to win some races.
R: Of course, I need to ask you about the victory in Misano. It was a crazy race. What were your thoughts going through your head on the last lap, the last corner, when Tom [Booth-Amos] fell, and you crossed the line in first place?
AC: For me, Misano was for sure the best moment of the season. So, it was one of the best moments of my life, because the path to that day was very hard for me, for the team, and for my family. And winning again was something really good for me.
I was feeling very proud of the comeback we did. Yes, it was a crazy race, and I didn't expect to win because I was fighting with the group and in this class it is always difficult to find the way to victory. Tom was out in the last corner and finally I won. It was really important – I started to feel competitive.
R: Besides this victory, how would you describe the whole season? The comeback was made of hard moments, victory, some tougher results. How would you describe your 2021 season?
AC: Tough [laughs].
The goal was to win, and we did it. It was important for everyone, but surely after that victory the season started to be more difficult. I had some physical problems. It was hard to fight for good results in every race because I had to fight with something you can't see, only the rider [knows it]. So the season was tough, but the most difficult thing for me was to manage the results because with the situation we had it was hard to fight for more.
R: Also, there was another rider who had a similar comeback this year and, just like you, also won a race: Marc Marquez. He was one of the first to congratulate you on your victory. Do you think your stories can be inspiring to some people?
AC: It can be for sure. Marc and I had a similar path because my injury was close and time and lasted long. I think people may feel inspired by our comebacks. For us, it is a normal situation because we had a lot of injuries during our careers. We have to come back stronger if you can, and for sure, Marc's injury and mine are something a bit different. But he achieved a victory, I also did it, so maybe for some people, it can be an example.
R: You showed your whole journey to the fans on social media. How was it for you to share your scar and rehab to the world?
AC: I wanted to show it because normally, I have been showing my whole life to people that follow me. Fans usually see the good things on TV – when riders win or have a good race. They see a positive part of the sport, but there are also different kinds of things like this injury.
It is important to also show that, like something normal. Also, I think what pushed me to do it was that I started to receive messages from people that had some similar injuries. It was something good for me, showing these people that if I can make a comeback to racing, they could also achieve it.
R: You were the first ever female World Champion in motorbikes history. How much did it mean for you, as a woman, to be the one to take such a step forward for all female racers?
AC: For me, it was really important as a rider. Mostly, because when I started racing, when I was young, being a World Champion was my dream. It was great for me to achieve it because I had a difficult year in the Moto3 class then I had some injuries. The journey until that moment was tough. It was also important for me to win it for my family, my sponsors, all the people that helped me.
Also, as you said, it's important for me as a woman, because being the first one maybe doesn't mean so much to me, but I understand it is very meaningful for the sport, for women, and the next riders that are trying to get into the world championship. I think that after that moment people started to see women can be competitive in the sport.
R: You have a famous motto: "Ride like a girl". Some people would say it while laughing and trying to mock, but you proved that riding like a girl means riding like a World Champion. Where did this motto come from?
AC: People normally use that sentence like it is something wrong. I think it is something to respect. For me, it was important to show people that this is an idiotic thing. We are all equal and we can do the same. For me, it was important to change this and I tried to show that being a man or woman doesn't make a big difference. You are a World Champion because you ride fast, and you ride well.
R: That is a great message, but it is also connected to another thing. After your accident, Jonathan Rea wore a T-shirt with your motto. How much did it mean to you to see him supporting you?
AC: It was crucial for me. I watched that race from the hospital a few days before he came there to see me and how I was. We were talking, but he didn't tell me it was his idea.
But watching this race, it was very important to see that Jonathan was trying to support me. Also, other people's reaction was emotional for me and I'm grateful because I think I had the great support of everyone in the paddock.
R: Taking a look at the future, what are plans and expectations for the next season? Do you see yourself achieving other podiums? What are your goals?
AC: We were thinking about moving to 600 or staying in 300 because normally the next move would be to move higher up, but the fact that I am still not 100% makes it difficult to change the class. For sure, my goal is to win – I don't care where. I want to be competitive, win races and fight for the title if I can.
[Ana Carrasco has since then announced a move to Moto3]
R: Do you still have a thought on the back of your mind about coming back to MotoGP?
AC: I feel really good inside this paddock, and I am happy with my team, so it's difficult to change something when you feel good. [...]
In the future? You never know what can happen, but now I want to keep improving with my team.
R: Forgive me if I come back to 2020 and 2021 again; how important was it to you the fact that Kawasaki extended your contract when you were still injured? Was it an extra motivation?
AC: It was something very special, because normally when you have an injury like that it's difficult to have people around you, wanting you to come back and be competitive in their team. For me? It was great to feel the support of the team and Kawasaki. From the first moment, they were completely sure that I would be back, I would win again. For sure, thanks to this faith, coming back was easier.
R: One last question. After all those years of experience in many classes of motorbikes - years of racing - what advice would you give to the young girl who would like to race - or who is racing but has a hard time?
AC: I always say the same thing, normally: you have to be sure you like that sport if you want to do it your whole life. Don't listen to too many voices around you. Just do what you love, what you want. Also, enjoy the journey because at first, you are excited, but when you start your professional journey, everything becomes more difficult. Do what you love – I think this is the best advice I can give.
On January 31st, after a week of rumours, Ana Carrasco confirmed she's leaving the WorldSBK paddock and Kawasaki to switch to the Moto3 class, returning to the MotoGP championship.
The MotoGP season starts on 6th March in Losail, Qatar.