Here's the link, with photos: http://women.motorcycle.com/mo/mcracing/katja.html
By Colin MacKellar
Torrance, California, October 04, 2000 -- Katja Poensgen... Not really a household name, there may even be some of you reading this article who have never heard of her.
The fact is that she is a German road racer who has been steadily climbing the rungs of the World Championship ladder and is poised to break into the top echelons of the sport. Competing in the Eurostock race series supporting the World Superbikes rounds in Europe, she consistently placed in the top ten, with a top finish of second place at the tight technical track of Misano, located in Italy.
In person, she can be described as open, articulate, determined, focused, intelligent and dedicated. She possesses all the qualities needed to be successful in this sport, shared by many of those at the top. And she is the first woman to show that speed and skill on a racetrack is not gender specific.
MO: When did you start racing?
KP: In 1992 I decided to start racing and 1993 was my first year in the ADAC junior championship in Germany. I was running a 125 machine with just 33 bhp. I was always last or second to last in 1993, but in 1994 I started getting points and in the last race I finished third on the podium. At that time I began to think "there are two guys in front of you and 45 guys behind, so it must be possible to win."
In 1995, I won the ADAC junior championship and it was my first title. It was good as there were three girls and 55 guys or something and it was the first time in Germany that a woman won a championship.
In 1996, I raced with a 125 GP machine in the German and European championship and it was also a good year. I rode a Yamaha which was very fast thanks to a great mechanic.
In 1997, I changed to a big bike, a 600 Supersports bike and I also raced Supermono with a single cylinder bike in the European championship. It was a Suzuki based on the DR750 bike. At the beginning of the '97 season I had my worst crash in Spain at Calafat . It was at a very fast section of the track at the end of the straight. I was in a coma for three days and was paralyzed on one side of my body for one month. I couldn't race for five months after that. Then I crashed again almost immediately and broke my hand and my foot and was out of racing for another two months. After the heavy crashes, I started to ride with a little more respect for the bike. Before I had just got on the bike and pushed as hard as possible, but after the crashes I was more careful.
MO: Could you work out the reason for the crashes?
KP: I couldn't remember anything of the big crash. I tried to think about it. I thought perhaps it was a mechanical problem, like the brakes. Later I decided it was my own fault. It was the single machine and it was very fast. I was only meant to test it, as it had already been sold to someone in Sweden. My Supermono team manager asked me to test the machine for a few laps to check that the engine was OK. I was out and was very fast, only 1 second off the lap record. It was an open testing day and it was really busy with a lot of private riders on the track. My team manager decided to bring me in as I was going too fast and it was getting cold as it was late in the afternoon and there were too many people on the track. But I crashed before he could put out the sign. At the end of the straight there is a fast left corner and people watching said I overtook two guys on the start/finish straight and it looked like I wanted to take them before the lefthander so that my lap time was not spoiled. I was probably so concentrated on passing them that I braked too late. Apparently the rear wheel was in the air and I ran into the gravel and woke up three days later.
MO: Then you crashed again as soon as you re-started racing?
KP: Almost immediately. It was the second test. At the first test at Misano, I was very nervous as everyone was looking at me to see if I could still race and go fast. I was not fit and could only ride a couple of laps before I needed to rest. At the second test in Hungary, I crashed and broke my hand.
MO: After the two heavy crashes, you must have wondered if you would be able to ride fast again.
KP: No, I did not think about that. I was sure when I woke up from the coma that I would ride again. Daddy was sitting beside my bed and I asked him "what happened?" He said "You have had a bad crash" and I said "no that is not possible, I would remember" "Why do you think you are in here" he said. I told him I would ride my bike again as soon as I got out of hospital and my Daddy said "sure, let's talk about it later, it's not the right moment now" I said "I want to race again" and he said "we will see." When I crashed again and was told I'd be out for two months, I thought that I might have started too early after the first crash. I was not 100% right after the coma. It's strange, but I thought maybe the second crash was good as it gave me some more time to recover. When I started riding again after the second crash, I rode a Supermono race in Germany and I won the race. It was so good as, although I was sure I could ride fast again, other people thought that I was finished. So in 1998, I was European Supermono champion. In '99 I rode German Supersports championship and five races in the Superstock.
MO: Satisfied this year so far?
KP: Yes. I had two crashes, (one) in Donington and (one in) Valencia. I was very nervous in Donington, starting in such a high profile team. Valencia was (explicative deleted). At Misano I was second and I got the lap record and also at Hockenheim I set the fastest lap. At Valencia I thought, "OK. Misano second, Valencia first" I put a lot of pressure on myself to win there and I crashed.
MO: So you need to be able to improve your racing when under pressure?
KP: Normally I can handle pressure very well. Valencia was different. At Misano it had been so easy to go from seventh to first and fight for first place. I felt very strong and really thought I could win at Valencia. Instead I crashed, it was stupid.
MO: Has it been difficult to be so successful as a woman in this sport?
KP: When I started racing, the boys were making jokes all the time and really being very patronizing, but for me it went in one ear and out the other. I didn't listen. When I won the first title in Germany in '95, the boys in Germany started to take notice and take me seriously. For me the most difficult thing to handle are the crashes. I've broken my ribs and hand and after this sort of crash it is difficult to go back to the bike. I think this is why there are not more women in the sport. I think most women are afraid of breaking bones.
There have been other women racing at the top like the Finish women Taru Rinne in the 125 GPs. She had a big crash and wasn't competitive again after that.
In 1990-1991, she rode for an Italian team and I was talking to this team in 1994 and they told me about their time with her. They told me that she couldn't handle all the attention and being famous. She started to drink, not just after the race, but also on Friday and Saturday evenings. It was all too much for her. Also Tomomo Igata was fast, finishing in the top 10, but in Australia she had a bad crash, breaking both legs and she never came back. So I think it is not really the attitude that other people have towards women that stops them getting into the sport, more their own worries and fears. Especially on big bikes, like 750s, when you crash it is extremely painful. With the 125s it wasn't so bad, you could crash and walk away with a few bruises. You're usually not so lucky on the big bikes.
MO: Do you think that it would be a good idea to have a Women only class of racing, to encourage more women into the sport?
KP: In 1995, I rode in a class in Italy just for women and it didn't really work for me. -- This class was discontinued this year as it was not attracting enough women riders to compete --Ed. -- I had a lot of fun on my bike, but either I won or I crashed. I'm not sure it would be a good idea. It might help a few women get started, but you learn to race by racing with fast riders, women or men. If the other riders are not fast, you don't learn. For instance I found in Italy that I could set pole position with the women riders and then ride the same track against an open field and I was three seconds faster! So I'm not sure it would help. I think you have to be prepared to ride against the fastest riders and just finish last the first year! You have to be strong enough to do this and not lose your motivation, because you are learning and you will go faster. I remember in my first year celebrating like crazy when I finished second from last! I'd managed to beat a guy!
MO: Do you consider yourself to be a role model?
Katja likes the podium.
KP: This is not something that I spend much time thinking about. It's not important to me, but I have quite a lot of contact from American women via my web site (www.katjap.com
). They tell me how they are cheering for me and how important it is for me to do well; that I am a kind of role model for them. I don't know.... If people want me to be a role model for them, that's fine with me, but I'm not going to behave differently because they have chosen me as a role model. I just want to win races. Penthouse and Playboy have asked me to do topless photos with my bike and I turned them down. I want to become famous because of my results, not because I am standing topless next to my bike. Maybe in 10 years time, but not now. What about next year. I think we will talk about it here in Assen. The Corona team would like me to stay one more year, doing Superstock again and maybe winning the championship. I'm not so interested in moving up to Supersports, I'd prefer Superbike. I've raced Supersports before, but I didn't get on with the 600 so well. I feel that the 750 and I fit each other better. I feel much more comfortable on my 750 now than I did on the 600. Perhaps this will change with the new GSXR 600 for next year, we'll see. I've not yet ridden one of the 750 Superbikes, but Francis (Batta) (owner of the Alstare Corona Suzuki team) has said that after the season is over I can make a test with Chili's bike. I think I really want to stay in Superstock one more year and finish at least in the top three and with a bit of luck as Champion.
I agree with Katja, she isn't a "roll model." I do think that what she is doing is inspirational though.
And I also agree with her assessment of women riders and racers.