Issue 17 Jul-Aug 2008
Back Issues

Girl on a fast motorcycle

Taru Rinne is the first woman to gain points in Grand Prix motorcycle racing

Thanks to the FIM magazine for this interview, pictures www.moto1.fi.

Taru Rinne from Turku in Finland is the first woman in the world to have obtained Road Racing World Championship points. She is also the first and only woman in Finland competing at World Championship level. Getting World Championship points as the first woman never really mattered to her because she had only one goal and that was to be the World Champion of Road Racing.

Racing was everything to Taru. She got herself into the motorsport world through the influence of her father who used to race with mini-cars. The paddocks of Finland already became really familiar to Taru when she was 4 years old. She started practicing when she was really young. It didn't matter whether it was raining or snowing - she didn't give up. She rode the track around and around. She thinks that this continuous practice was later the key to her success. Beside Road Racing, Taru also competed in ice racing and motocross which she thinks were really beneficial for Road Racing. Before her Road Racing career, this little girl beat on karting tracks boys like Mika Häkkinen and Mika Salo. "Häkkinen has been asking if I am crazy."

Taru changed her karting car into a Road Racing bike when she wanted something new and exciting. In 1985 the 16 year old Taru got her motorbike driving license and started to race in the 125cc B-class. She was doing so well that the following year she was already competing in the 125cc A-class and was fourth. Over the next few years Taru raced in European Championship races where her best result was 6th. In 1988 besides competing in European Championship races she also took part in a few World Championship competitions and got her first points finishing 14th with her RS 125 Honda in the French Grand Prix on the Paul Ricard circuit (44.23 seconds behind winner Jorge Martinez).

Women on Road Racing tracks was something new and interesting. Taru was able to race in an Italian team in 1989. In the competition situation there were no gentlemen. "I was a racer among other racers. It didn't matter if I had long hair under my helmet. In Finland there was maybe a bit of bitterness when a woman won but when we raced in WC level people were really amazing." Taru was in this team for four years. She learned Italian quickly and liked Italian people.

Taru's best result is from the year 1989 when she was seventh in the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim and 17th in the final classification with 23 points. But she most admires her 11th place which she achieved twice in German Championship races where she raced in 1992-1993. "We raced with a basic motorcycle. We fixed the bikes by ourselves and there were really tough guys competing."

Taru was active in travelling around the world. In the beginning, her parents helped her financially . "Without my parents' help I wouldn't have been able to race at all."

Racing as the only woman was really beneficial because newspapers wrote a lot about Taru which made it easier for her to get sponsors. But after tobacco sponsors quit in Road Racing the money problems started.

Usually Taru had a mechanic with her but it wasn't unusual for her to fix her bike by herself.
"I can race but I am not sure if I can change pistons so well, but sometimes I just had to."

The team mechanics came to the races from Italy and Taru was travelling alone with her 508 Mercedes where she had her racing bikes, bed and a small kitchen behind the car. She thinks that paddock life was fantastic.

"We raced on the tracks but in the paddocks we were friends with each other. In so-called normal life people don't get that. I was always on the road but I went home every time when it was possible."

Taru cooked for herself and did the laundry but she got help when she needed it. She also spent much time with other racers' girlfriends.

Taru raced all her active career in the 125cc class. It was her goal to move into the 250cc class but accidents blocked the way. In 1989 Taru hurt her knee badly when someone drove over it in Assen. It was operated on a few times and they always fixed it before the starts but it was hurting all the time. Also financial problems forced Taru to quit racing after the German Championship races.

Taru started to work in Salo. She had some major problems getting used to normal life without Road Racing.
"It was awful. I was used to travelling and racing was so different from making mobile phones. My life changed completely. I miss those times when I was wild and free. No one told me what to do. I was able to see so many new people and the world. I was able to have adventures. The actual racing was the best to a person who really enjoyed it. I will always miss that. My parents had to put all their life into that and I was so hoping to win the World Championship so that I would have been able to pay them back something and give them nice retired years".

At one time Taru competed with Mika Kallio's father Hannu.
"I think that Mika will be successful and I really hope that. It is not easy even if you have potential. He is a good racer anyway and a nice person."

Interview

Today more and more women are going into motorcycle racing. Do you consider yourself as a kind of precursor?

Perhaps I kind of was a precursor, hopefully. When I was riding, more women came into the sport and that was really great, but I don't think it was because of me. When I was racing in Italy there were already quite a lot of women racers. Maybe the fact that I started to race at world championship level impacted on some women.

Technically, in Motocross and Trial, women are competing separately from the men. In Road Racing it is not always the case. What is your opinion about this? Would you make a difference at national level? Would there be more interest towards the sport if women and men were competing separately?

I was perhaps proud when I was racing with men at the same level. And somehow that was ok in Road Racing but women were weaker and they needed to make more physical effort to be at the same level as men. Mentally I think it is quite even. For example in Motocross the situation is a bit different because it is more to do with physical strengths and that's why women and men should compete separately in that.

In Road Racing there is no point if there isn't real competition between women. There should be so many good racers. Nobody wants to watch the races if someone overtakes others five times. The fact is that there are only a few of us women who are starting to race in Road Racing.

Do you think it is easier for women today than in the 80s? What was in fact the major problem you had to face - being a woman, or something else?

I am not sure what the situation is today. Women are expected to do the same things as men and women should be the same as men. In Finland in those days there were quite a lot of prejudices but in Italy and Germany where I lived then I was like God. I was loved and honoured. When women were travelling alone in those days people always helped. There was no country where I didn't get help. Perhaps it was easier for women to get help.

Is there a reason (or various reasons) why it took so long for women to have their place in motorsport?

I don't know. I would like to be a good example for other women to get into the sport. Of course there are dangers and every woman wants to be beautiful and doesn't want to get scars but what this sport gives to you then you don't really care about the scars. It is so amazing. For a person who loves motorsport it is just great, and they should come and try it. There are only a few women who try Road Racing and then only a few will be successful.

What are the differences (on a motorcycle) for a woman; why so few women in motorsports?

Perhaps it is the old fashioned way that women cook and men race. I think it starts from the beginning when girls get dolls and boys get cars. But I actually got the car first and Barbies later. Perhaps it is just something to do with the roles and how difficult it is to change them. Usually boys get the opportunity to start racing but parents don't think that girls might have much more potential than their brothers.

In your opinion what is still missing for the development of motorsport for women? What should be done, at FIM level, national federation level, promoter, etc. for this development?

More women should be in a motorsport. Sponsors should understand how big a thing it is when women start racing. Women are really interested in motorsport and no one can say whether women or men are better racers especially in Road Racing. When one woman gets success more women will get involved. If there were women's classes that would be great but the only problem is if there are enough so called crazy women to get involved. It is great that now in the FIM there is a commission for women. But still, attitudes should be changed.

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