Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Relentless in her goals

She’s 5ft 5in, weighs 55kg, and is the only woman racer competing in Saturday’s Relentless NW200. In the second of a two-part special feature to mark the event, the spotlight today is on Maria Costello.

An elderly car driver helped launch the racing career of Maria when he knocked her off her road bike as a teenager. It most certainly wasn’t the way she would have planned to go racing.

But the 32-year old Northampton-based rider has never looked back and in 48 hours time she will be on the starting grid, taking in two different classes over the high speed triangle course on the north Antrim coast.

Maria, who is single, will be out in the Supersport race on a 600cc R6 Yamaha and then in the Superstock class on BMW’s new sports bike, the S1000RR, the fastest and most powerful at 180bhp of all the current superbikes on the market. She’s just finished running it in over 600 miles on the road.

She’s first raced at the NW in 2005 and finished third in her class and seventh overall. Mechanical problems and injuries have bothered her since but she’s hoping to put those bad days behind her on Saturday.

It takes a lot of bottle to go racing and for a woman I imagine more so because it’s a male dominated sport. She doesn’t look at it that way, she simply sees the other riders as competitors, competitors she badly wants to beat. On top of that, the NW200 course, just a tad under nine miles in length, is one of the fastest road circuits in the world, so even more bottle called for.

And already she’s had success on Irish roads this year when she made her debut at the Cookstown 100 recently and finished third in the 400cc event. Now her sights are firmly focussed on Saturday’s three races.

But what were the circumstances that led to Maria, a blonde, taking up the sport in the first place? When she was 16 or 17 she was into bikes back then and owned a 125 machine which she used to commute to her work as a veterinary nurse.

“An elderly gentleman knocked me of my bike and I broke a few bones and ended up in hospital for a few days,” she explained. A person of lesser determination might have been put off bikes for good but not Maria. Her heart was set on racing.

“I got a compensation cheque and with it I bought a Suzuki RGV250, a set of leathers and I went racing.” She admitted that she could not have afforded to otherwise but in conversation she comes across as one very determined woman and I’m certain she would have eventually found the money elsewhere if it hadn’t of been for the accident.

Once on the race track she was soon to discover that she’d made the correct decision and that she had a natural aptitude for the sport.

Maria went on to join an all girls’ team headed by Sandra Bennett and they raced 600 Hondas. Further success was to come in the in the Isle of Man when she was the first woman to stand on the podium at either the Manx or the TT and was the fastest woman ever around the circuit in 2004.

Today racing is a way of life for Maria – her nickname’s Elvis, look for it on the fairing of her machines. Since her days as a vet nurse, she’s done a number of different jobs, including behaviour therapist, stunt riding and she’s also in demand as an after dinner speaker

Keeping fit is a must for every racer today and she’s no exception. “I cycle, run, do weights and swim,” she told me.

Her current job is working for Bering, the French bike clothing manufacturer and she wears the company’s leathers while racing. She’s now become an ambassador for the sport and that was officially recognised last autumn when Prince Charles presented her with the MBE for services to motorcycling.

He asked her if she’d come to Buckingham Palace by bike and she was able to tell the Prince she had. London traffic was so heavy that she was running behind schedule and a friend who rides one of the Virgin taxi bikes took her on the final stretch of the journey on two wheels. Nothing more appropriate than that.

Away from race circuits she’s currently writing a book, Maria Costello: Queen of Bikers. A podium place at the NW is one of her wishes before she quits racing and that would make a terrific chapter for her book. She’s also a website, www:costelloracing.com

On Saturday, look out for her in the CP Hire Superstock race on the BMW S1000RR, provided by Tony Morris, of CMS and the R6 Yamaha on which she’s competing in the Ballymoney Borough Council and Clinton Supersport races. Her team mate is our own Morgan Davy.

Maria said that her ambition in life ‘is to be happy.’ Nothing, I imagine, would make her happier than good placings on Saturday. We all wish here the best of luck.

Finally, please support the event by buying a programme, cost £15 or 18 euro. It’s the organisers’ main source of income this year it runs to 100-pages. No better value for a full day’s entertainment.

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