How one team boss is shaping motorcycling’s female future

Orphaned aged six and a survivor of breast cancer, Faye Ho has fast become a trailblazing figure in motorsport. Not only has her FHO Racing squad been frontrunners in the British Superbike Championship and in road racing, she has used this platform to start nurturing young female talent in a bid to genuinely improve gender diversity in motorcycle racing.

Peter Hickman celebrates winning the first Superstock TT with FHO Racing BMW boss, Faye Ho and his team

There’s no escaping the reality: motorsport still has a major diversity problem. Have things improved? Almost certainly. But enough? Far from it.

All of motorsport is guilty of it and every series and discipline must do better. That’s no small task. It requires a lot of time, money and resources to be dedicated to the problem, and finding a person or an organisation with all three isn’t easy right now.

There is a lot of work going on in the background to improve diversity. More Than Equal, backed by David Coulthard, is embarking on its quest to put a female racer on the Formula 1 grid. F1 Academy is trying to give young girls a platform to help them up the junior series ladder, taking over from the dormant W Series in this regard.

Seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton’s Ignite Partnership is trying to bring people from underprivileged, non-white backgrounds into motorsport across all areas. Racing Pride is shining a light on those within the motorsport world who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and trying to overturn decades-old stereotypes and exclusionary viewpoints along the way.

Motorcycle racing is arguably the industry within motorsport with the most growth to do. Over the last two years, the Motorsport Network ran the F1 fan survey and MotoGP fan survey. Female participation in the former was 18.3% of the total sample. That’s still a paltry response, but in the MotoGP survey that figure was just 13%. More Than Equal's own research found that, of the 13,000 people surveyed, only 22% felt women could compete head-to-head with men in MotoGP, while that number dropped to 19% for World Superbikes compared to Formula E on 38% and F1 on 51%.

Earlier this year, the FIM announced that in 2024 it is aiming to begin the FIM Women’s Motorcycling World Championship. This is being touted by FIM president Jorge Viegas as a “final destination” for female riders, rather than a stepping stone – suggesting the governing body sees no future in which a woman can race at the highest levels of motorcycle racing, such as MotoGP and World Superbikes. Or perhaps it simply doesn’t want to make the effort.

Given Ana Carrasco scored a historic world championship in the World Supersport 300 class in 2018, the FIM’s initiative falls laughably short of where motorcycle racing needs to be aiming.

Carrasco has already proven women can compete with men head-to-head and win, becoming the first female circuit racing world champion in 2018 when she won the World Supersport 300 title

Carrasco has already proven women can compete with men head-to-head and win, becoming the first female circuit racing world champion in 2018 when she won the World Supersport 300 title

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

This is where Faye Ho comes in. The dual British and Macau national is putting both her time and money into helping young girls’ racing careers blossom.

Ho took over the Smiths Racing squad – previously run by Rebecca Smith – in 2021 in British Superbikes and in road racing. While a short tenure as a team owner thus far, it has been hugely successful. FHO Racing won all of the big bike races at the 2022 Isle of Man TT with Peter Hickman, and won all but one of the big bike contests at the 2023 event – setting a new outright lap record of 136.358mph in the process. In BSB this year, Josh Brookes sits fourth in the standings for the team currently after five rounds with two wins.

Insight: How Hickman bounced back to claim the TT's biggest prize

Her experience in motorcycle racing long pre-dates the FHO Racing squad, having sponsored riders for over a decade at the Macau Grand Prix. It would be easy to dismiss her as simply the granddaughter of Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho, splashing cash on whatever she wants. But not only would that be a lazy assumption, it’s an accusation that falls flat on its arse when you look at just how much of an impact Faye Ho and her FHO Racing organisation has already made in Britain.

“What I’d like to do is actually give more opportunities to girls, females in racing, or even younger riders, and have them to have a good platform where they feel they are supported, where they are being seen” Faye Ho

While the primary goal is, of course, to win the BSB title and continue to dominate on the road racing scene, straight away Ho began to craft her vision for the future. In 2021, Ho set up an initiative to help three racers: Charlotte Marcuzzo, Scarlett Robinson and Holly Harris, who competed in the British Junior Supersport Championship and British Talent Cup respectively.

While a number of figures in the British Championship have supported female racers in recent years, such as the OMG Racing team, Ho’s programme is already growing into something more substantial.

For 2023, she expanded this support to five riders: 18-year-old Denise Dal Zotto, 16-year-old Harris, 18-year-old Robinson, 18-year-old Jamie Hanks Elliott and 22-year-old Kate Walker. All-bar Walker compete in the British Junior Supersport Championship on the BSB support bill, while the former is contesting the BMW F900 R Cup having finished second in the Golden Era Steelsport Championship in Thundersport GB last year.

Harris and Robinson are yet to score points in 2023, but Dal Zotto has tallied eight in the opening rounds with a best finish of 11th, while Hanks-Elliott (whose grandmother Rose Arnold became the first woman ever to stand on a TT podium in 1968 as a Sidecar passenger) has scored 14 points also with a best result of 11th.

The roster of girls FHO is supporting on two wheels in 2023. From L-R: Robinson, Dal Zotto, Walker, Hanks-Elliott, Harris

The roster of girls FHO is supporting on two wheels in 2023. From L-R: Robinson, Dal Zotto, Walker, Hanks-Elliott, Harris

Photo by: FHO Racing

Still very much in its infancy, Ho’s vision right now is clear.

“What I’d like to see in the future, what I’d like to do, is actually give more opportunities to girls, females in racing, or even younger riders, and have them have a good platform where they feel they are supported, where they are being seen,” she tells Autosport during some downtime at the 2023 TT last month.

“I think that’s the most important thing. A lot of these girl riders, they weren’t actually seen or even heard of while they were racing in British Superbikes or other categories. So, I just want people to take more notice of them and what they are doing.

“It is still a bit of a male-dominated sport and I think the more I have this vision of having more girl riders coming in, it kind of changes people’s perspective to see that. [They say] ‘Oh wow, I didn’t realise there were so many girls racing in these championships’. And I think that’s what I want to do more of in the future.”

Ho’s involvement is having a noticeable impact on motorcycle racing. She feels since making her TT debut as a team owner in 2022 “things are starting to change”.

“You do see a category of people coming to the TT, a lot of them are bikers,” Ho explains. “They just love bikes and that’s why they love the event so much. For myself, I like to push the racing and females in racing to a broader audience, to more females, to where they can actually understand that they can do something like this and they can come and join into the event. Even in BSB I see that there is a change already. A lot of little girls and women are coming up to me and saying ‘well done, love what you’re doing with the girl riders’.”

Representation is a crucial element in any drive to improve diversity: if you can see someone like you in any discipline, it provides inspiration. The British Championship, helped in no small part by Ho, is enjoying strong female participation in its junior levels, with eight riders in the Junior Supersport Championship alone – Chloe Jones leading this charge in 10th in the standings with a best of fourth to her credit so far.

The success that FHO Racing has at the highest levels it competes in is having a trickle-down effect: the more FHO hits the headlines, the more exposure the girls supported by the team are getting. Exposure, however, is only part of what FHO Racing is doing for these girls.

Faye Ho has drafted in the support of the TT's former fastest female and active competitor Maria Costello

Faye Ho has drafted in the support of the TT's former fastest female and active competitor Maria Costello

Photo by: FHO Racing

“Pete and Josh, whenever there is a British Superbike round, they will always do track walks with the girls,” she notes. “So, you’re getting already very experienced riders giving information or just teaching the girls. Before I got them [the girls] into the team, I don’t think they were able to have that kind of access. So, that’s already a really good thing for them and I can see they are improving slowly. It’s good to see.”

As well as enlisting the help of her superstar riders in BSB, Ho has the TT’s former fastest female Maria Costello (who was meant to race the Sidecar and Supertwin class backed by FHO before injury ruled her out of the 2023 event) acting as a manager and mentor.

Racing is a hard discipline and a brutal one. One promising female talent, Lissy Whitmore, decided to quit the British Superbike paddock earlier this month. Falling ill pre-season and having her preparations affected as a result, several of her sponsors pulled their support. Not enjoying her racing and with her mental health suffering, she felt she had no choice but to take a step back.

It was a brave decision, and she hasn’t closed the door on returning to the BSB paddock one day. But it goes to show why more initiatives like Faye Ho’s are desperately needed if motorcycle racing is to have a truly gender-diverse future.

"I want to be able to master what I’m doing first and then branch out into other things. Never say never, I do like the cars, but at the moment I’m really enjoying bikes" Faye Ho

Ho’s plans sound long-term and hasn’t dismissed branching out into other areas of motorsport. In fact, FHO is now backing 12-year-old karter Lizzy Mentier, who last year won races in the Teeside Sprint Series, Hooton Indikart Series and JKC National Championship.

“At the moment I’m really enjoying the bikes,” she explains. “Doing British Superbikes and the roads, it takes a lot of time through the year. It’s a long season, so I don’t want to take on too much too fast. So, slowly building it up is what I’m looking at. Also for me, I don’t really have a long period in that bike environment, so I’m still learning.

“I want to be able to master what I’m doing first and then branch out into other things. Never say never, I do like the cars, but at the moment I’m really enjoying bikes. I don’t want to jump into things too quickly and then go ‘oh, gosh, I’ve taken on too much’.”

For someone as ambitious as Ho, it’s hard not to envisage grids full of FHO-backed competitors in the future. But her steady approach will ensure that what she is building now will continue to strengthen into something potentially genuinely game-changing.

The success FHO has at the highest levels has a positive impact on its work with the girls further down the racing ladder

The success FHO has at the highest levels has a positive impact on its work with the girls further down the racing ladder

Photo by: ttracesofficial/Pacemaker Press

shares
comments

CEO Interview: Why motorsport needs to set targets for female driver participation

Magazine: Assessing the wider impact of Ricciardo's F1 return

Ranking the top 10 pre-war grand prix drivers

Ranking the top 10 pre-war grand prix drivers

Plus
Plus
Formula 1
Kevin Turner

Ranking the top 10 pre-war grand prix drivers Ranking the top 10 pre-war grand prix drivers

How a timely change of chassis transformed Formula 3 forever

How a timely change of chassis transformed Formula 3 forever

Plus
Plus
BF3
Marcus Simmons

How a timely change of chassis transformed Formula 3 forever How a timely change of chassis transformed Formula 3 forever

The 2022 Autosport Awards winner using Esports as a launchpad

The 2022 Autosport Awards winner using Esports as a launchpad

Plus
Plus
General
2022 Autosport Awards
Alex Kalinauckas

The 2022 Autosport Awards winner using Esports as a launchpad The 2022 Autosport Awards winner using Esports as a launchpad

The plug in and play stand-ins who got their timing just right

The plug in and play stand-ins who got their timing just right

Plus
Plus
General
Gary Watkins

The plug in and play stand-ins who got their timing just right The plug in and play stand-ins who got their timing just right

Porsche’s hopeful Le Mans future meets its illustrious past

Porsche’s hopeful Le Mans future meets its illustrious past

Plus
Plus
Historics
Gary Watkins

Porsche’s hopeful Le Mans future meets its illustrious past Porsche’s hopeful Le Mans future meets its illustrious past

Why romanticism isn't the key factor in Lola’s racing return

Why romanticism isn't the key factor in Lola’s racing return

Plus
Plus
General
Gary Watkins

Why romanticism isn't the key factor in Lola’s racing return Why romanticism isn't the key factor in Lola’s racing return

Rating the best drivers of the century so far

Rating the best drivers of the century so far

Plus
Plus
General
Kevin Turner

Rating the best drivers of the century so far Rating the best drivers of the century so far

The best motorsport moments of 2021

The best motorsport moments of 2021

Plus
Plus
General
Autosport Staff

The best motorsport moments of 2021 The best motorsport moments of 2021

Subscribe