Originally published March 2019
Portugal’s involvement in motorcycle racing has been one of growth over recent years, as the country has begun making its mark on the world stage. Estoril played host to the MotoGP championship from 2000 to 2012, and Portimao continues to host the World Superbikes as it has for the last decade. The world has also witnessed the rise of Almada’s Miguel Oliveira as he tore through the classes and has now made his MotoGP debut.
With the continuous upsurge of Portugal’s impact on world racing, one might ask who could be next to bear the flag on the top step.
Our guess? Madalena Simões.
For those who follow Madalena on social media, it’s clear to see how influential motorsport has been on the 18-year-old; it doesn’t take long to find something Rossi-related on her feed. In the last year, however, Madalena’s photos have progressed. These days there are less photos of the GOAT, and more of her own racing. 2018 saw Simões enter Portugal’s Moto5 national series for her debut season, in which she stunned viewers by taking 2nd overall, with many awesome achievements along the way.
“My rookie season went great, I won my very first race, made the most poles and victories of the season. However, what I consider to be the highlight of the year was my first race in a racetrack (4/6 of my races were held in KartTracks) where I felt amazing and won with a minute advantage to my team mate who finished second.”
Along with many, many MotoGP fans around the world, it is The Doctor who stole Madalena’s heart. But racing also resides in Simões’ blood, and her inspiration isn’t only on the TV, but in the home too.
“I have always been surrounded by motorbikes throughout my childhood, my uncle competed in the 90s. He became a national 125cc championship winner several times and also took part in international championships. He ended his career when I was around 1 year old so I wasn’t a part of the paddock/racing life. However, I was always curious about his racing, I saw his trophies at my grandma’s house and I always wanted to know the stories behind them.
More recently he and my dad participated in some track days hosted at Circuito do Estoril and I went to watch them most times and enjoyed it a lot. It wasn’t until 2017 when I went to see Oliveira’s 3rdcup round that I first thought about competing. Before that I had no idea that here in Portugal there was competitions for youth. Since that day I was dreaming of racing; unfortunately, I was too old for the cup but found another championship fit to my age, and that was Moto5.
Besides my uncle who has been helping me with everything, advising me and understanding my worries and anxieties. The biggest reason why I’ve always liked motorcycle racing is Valentino Rossi, I know this is a basic answer but it is still so true. I don’t remember the exact time when I started to watch MotoGP on Tv but I would say I was around 7 years old and it marked me for life. Especially Rossi, not only because of his amazing results at the time but also because of his personally, you could see through the screen how much fun he had and how much he loves what he does, we can still see that a decade later. So, because of him I built a really good relation with motorsports, the respect for his sport just kept growing and still is, and the idea of it being a soul moving sport just got stuck in my head.”
For Madalena, the jump into motorcycle racing appeared rather abrupt. From being Rossi’s #1 fan one minute, to stepping onto the podium the next. However, being an avid fan of the sport prior to competing has proved to be beneficial for our Portuguese prodigy, and the experiences of both seem incomparable.
“The fact that I had been a racing fan long before I sat on a motorbike, helped me with the basics, I had a little knowledge of trajectory, gears and other fundamental stuff.When I’m watching MotoGP, I keep a close eye on the body position they use and how they enter the corners, and I think that’s what I do best right now, it helps a lot even though the bikes are very different I can still learn a lot.
I thought I felt intense emotions when watching races but in reality, nothing compares to experiencing the real thing, I felt things I had never felt before. The emotional charge is really tough but rewarding, and I’m only disputing small championships. I would say being a fan is much more peaceful but definitely not the same, I think people who really love motorcycle racing should definitely try it.”
However, while most rookies’ debut into racing appears to be one of gradual improvement – unless you’re Marquez of course – Madalena’s was anything but, as the 18-year-old showed to country what she’s made of.
“I was expecting to finish a few times on the podium maybe if lucky one top step, most of my rivals had more experience than me so I was being reasonable, and smart for not getting my hopes up. But then I won my first race, and my confidence went up, and I thought “okay maybe I’ll be able to win some more races” and turns out I did it. I won 2 more races, crashed twice while leading, and finished 3rd one time due to a mechanical problem. I finished the championship in second position with a 2-point difference to the winner – a friend of mine that never rode a full lap in front of me. 2018 was a learning experience and I’m so grateful for everything that happened – even the crashes, because it taught me that these things happen and will continue too, this is racing.”
As 2018 proved to be a rather successful introduction to motorcycle racing, the coming season will be an opportunity for Simões to step up her game, and our girl already has a plan in place to do so.
“For this year I received a brand new R3, and I’m competing in the Portuguese SS300 championship, I also plan on doing 2 or 3 races in the Spanish championship to really learn and improve my riding. In addition, I aim to be a wildcard for the Portuguese round in WSBK in the SSP300 class, let’s see if I can do it, if not I’ll try in 2020. 2019 is my rookie year so I’m not too worried about getting amazing results, but of course I’ll do my best. I’m hoping for a top 3 here in Portugal in the first races but later on I’ll want victories.”
With Portugal’s growing interest in motorcycle racing, and young riders like Madalena coming through the ranks, how likely is it that the world is going to start seeing more Portuguese riders on the world stage in the coming years?
“As I said earlier, I didn’t even know that there was racing championships for the youth until I looked into it, there was a significant lack of media coverage, although it is improving now, thanks to Miguel Oliveira – people’s interest for motorcycle racing here in Portugal is increasing now for sure – and various efforts by people working for the Portuguese federation and championships. Personally, I think that the Portuguese championship still has very few riders spread throughout the categories, last year I raced against 5 people, but it’s getting better, this year we’re 9 or 10 in the 300 category, which is way better but still nothing compared to other countries, but we are evolving for sure. However, in 2016 were created 2 projects for initiation, so it’s really easy to start competing here.”
Of course, when we think of women in racing these days, our minds head to 2018 WSSP300 Champion Ana Carrasco – the girl who made history as the first female road racing champion. While Madalena’s future may be uncertain, it’s no surprise that our prodigy aims to follow in the Spaniard’s footsteps while she has a chance.
“For sure, I want to be a full-time racer, but we all know that it might not be possible. I’m in university and I’m planning on finishing my course. It’s all going to depend on how good my racing goes from now on. But competing on the world stage is definitely my career goal. I’d love to be in WSBK 300, I’ll be certainly working to archive that. Carrasco is for sure an inspiration, I would definitely like to be able to do as well as she did last year. So, we will see.”
Madalena Simões – remember the name.
Portugal’s newest prodigy could very well be the next face of female world racers, and maybe even Portugal’s next champion.
Photo Credit: My Eyes Behind the Camera