North West 200: Patricia Fernandez racing against her 'superheroes'
An hour after completing her first-ever practice session at the North West 200 the adrenalin is still pumping and the words flow freely as Patricia Fernandez cannot hide her enthusiasm for her latest road racing adventure.
Having competed at the Ulster Grand Prix since 2014, and at many other motorcycling events across the world, the American is full of praise for the challenges posed by the high-speed Triangle circuit and the atmosphere surrounding Northern Ireland's largest outdoor sporting event.
"It's fast. It's different but it's fun. Parts of the course are super-fast, super-flowy, and remind me of circuits I race on at home but a lot of it is technical - not just the chicanes but a lot of the turns where the camber changes halfway through the turn," said the rider from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
"There are sections where you are pinned right in sixth gear but the coastal part is definitely the most fun for me. I'm struggling a little bit more on the chicanes - trying to remember which one is tight, which one opens up more - but I'm definitely getting better and quicker.
"I just want to get comfortable and have my marks and braking points down. After I get comfortable I'll start pushing myself a little more.
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"I arrived in the paddock on Monday and couldn't believe there were so many people here already. I read that there were 100,000 people here last year lining the track so I'm thinking 'man, what's Saturday going to be like'.
"Everything is just so new so I have to funnel the nerves and not put too much pressure on myself."
'All the slip-streaming is a lot of fun'
Fernandez made her debut as a professional motorcycle racer in 2012 and enjoyed her first taste of racing on Irish roads in 2014 at the Ulster GP.
The 33-year-old holds the record for the fastest ever lap by a female competitor at Dundrod with an average speed of 121.30mph.
"I did try coming to the North West some years ago before I came to 'the Ulster' but it didn't quite work out. After getting a few years of experience under my belt I thought I was ready to come here and try another one, something new.
"I like the internationals - the number of races you get and the amount of time to ride the bike make it worth spending all the time, money and effort to be here.
"Being a little girl it's a lot of fun doing all the slip-streaming. I like it when you get on the big long straights and draft all those Irish guys.
"The next one off my ticker is the Isle of Man TT. I've got to check that bug."
'It's a different level of crazy'
Fernandez explains that her exploits on the Irish roads have attracted a large following on social media and interest is growing in the sport in her native country as a result.
"We don't have these kind of races in America but all the road racers are superheroes back home. We know all about the Dunlops and John McGuinness and Peter Hickman - all these guys are super-cool.
"We get to watch it on tv and we just think it's a different level of crazy. We know women are crazy anyhow. I think I'm just embracing my side of crazy a little more than other women.
"When I come here lots of people at home follow me on social media and it opens the world of road racing to people and allows me to tell them more about it. So many more people are interested in coming when they have someone to cheer."
Riding under the banner of the Magic Bullet Racing team, Fernandez has raced in the AMA American Superbike Championship, the Moto America series, as well as taking in events in Mexico and Phillip Island, Australia.
In March she competed at the famous Daytona meeting in Florida, achieving her best ever finish on a 1000cc bike there but falling agonisingly short of one personal ambition.
"I was trying really hard to break the 200mph barrier but I did 199.5. You would have thought I had the biggest temper tantrum on the planet but I did really well, placing fourth in the Superbike race, which was awesome. Overall it was an amazing experience.
"If you give me a motorcycle I'll try to race it. Anything with two wheels really. They could start a scooter series and I'd probably want to do it.
"There aren't too many females competing regularly on the 1000ccs and I'm trying to go to the Macau Grand Prix and become the first ever female to race there.
"I approach road racing with the attitude of 'I'm just here to learn, to live to come back again. There's big risk but there's big reward.
"It's one of the coolest sensations when everything's going really well. Just to be smiling and screaming under your helmet, be a bit scared but have loads of fun."