Women racers storming Indian motorsports’ male bastion

Coimbatore, Sep 11 (IANS) Motorsport is traditionally considered a male bastion but four young women are trying to break the barrier – and that too in India which does not have much of a history of motor racing.

Mira Erda, Sneha Sharma, Ria Dabas and Neha Dabas, who race in the JK Tyre Racing Championship in different categories, are four intrepid women who want to not only make a mark in Indian motorsports but also take it beyond that. However, it has not been an easy ride for them so far as their ‘gender’ has been a hindrance in one way or another.

“The first few years were difficult for me because it is a male-dominated sport. My competitors used to demoralise me, push me off the track. I was targeted because I was a female driver …. but my aim was to prove myself and show everyone that girls can be at an equal level,” Vadodara’s Mira, on the threshold of 15 years and who races for Meco Racing in Formula LGB 4, told IANS.

“But after a few years, I got used to it and they also got used to me. Then they started supporting and understanding me. Now they don’t see me as a girl but as a competitor. Now we are friends off-track and fierce rivals on-track.”

Mumbai’s Sneha, who also races in Formula LGB 4 for Rayo Racing, said that when she started in 2007, people deliberately made her uncomfortable which led to her not interacting much in the paddock.

“It is difficult. People do make you uncomfortable. Some people don’t like you here but I overcame these barriers long back when I started. All the things that were said to me were very difficult to swallow but I am used to it now; so it no longer affects me. People were not very supportive, some said that you don’t belong here and some discouraged you,” the 25-year-old Sneha, who is also a pilot with IndiGo airline, told IANS.

“But there were a select few who were encouraging and motivating. I don’t talk to many competitors because not all are very welcoming. I have made my place here. Now I am comfortable. Many a time, I was the only girl racer but now you see a few more coming in — four this year.”

Rookie sisters Neha and Ria, who hail from the national capital, are in their first season of racing and are participating in the Volkswagen Vento Cup. They are part of a grid for which more than 500 drivers gave trials and eventually only 20 made it through, showing that racing does not have much to do with gender.

“Racing is not so common in Delhi and people aren’t really aware of it. I and my sister have always been very passionate about cars and bikes,” the 24-year-old Neha told IANS.

“We do get those kind of reactions but in our family everyone is chill about it. My father is an ex-fighter pilot. We could not become the same because the Indian Air Force does not allow women to become fighter pilots. So this was the second fastest thing we could do.”

Ria, two years junior to Neha, told IANS that “it doesn’t matter to me… male dominated or not. I am just here to race with the best. It is difficult but I am trying to cope. Our parents have always been supportive throughout”.

Mira and Erda have already earned podiums and with Neha and Ria waiting in the queue, they are giving a ‘fair’ warning to their male counterparts.

So, if Monisha Kaltenborn can be the team principal of Formula 1 team Sauber, there’s no reason why these four young women can also not reach their pinnacle.

(Sandip Sikdar can be contacted at sandip.s@ians.in)

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