Motorsport, in general, has seen a growth in the number of female drivers, engineers or even team principals over the years. India has been no exception - Darshan Chokhani looks at the four female drivers making their mark in Indian motorsport.
Indian motorsport is still going through its developing phase but is already seeing steady growth with a large number of drivers competing internationally.
While it is still a male-dominated sport, this season, for the first time ever, the Indian scene sees four female drivers compete at the same time albeit in different series/categories.
Each of the four has their own tale to tell as they continue to push boundaries to live their dream.
The fantastic four
The JK Tyre Formula LGB features Sneha Sharma along with Mira Erda, who also competes in the JK Tyre Rotax Karting championship.
Joining the two single-seater drivers are sister duo of Neha Dabas and Ria Dabas, who race in the touring car Volkswagen Vento Cup series.
The 24-year-old, Sneha, hails from Mumbai and started racing in 2007 when she was spotted by Rayo Racing.
While she had initially stopped racing to pursue her a different career (she works as an airplane pilot for Indigo airlines), she got back to racing again in 2014. Since then she has been driving as well as flying.
Mira, on the other hand, started racing in 2010 and since then has won several trophies in karting both nationally and internationally. The Baroda girl has made steady progress in her single-seater career.
Both Neha and Ria hail from Delhi and only started racing at a professional level this year. The 24-year-old, Neha, is a national-level basketball player as well as a national-level swimmer and an athlete. Her 22-year-old sister Ria, is a state-level athlete.
Sneha, who admires Ayrton Senna and Lewis Hamilton, says speed “thrills” her and that her “fascination” for machines led her to flying and racing.
Mira, too, had the passion for speed when she started racing at the age of nine. She wants to prove to the world that females too can race.
“When I was young, I had made up my mind for racing; I wanted to live my passion and prove people wrong by competing with the boys in a male-dominated game,” she said to Motorsport.com.
For Neha and Ria, cars and bikes have always been of huge interest to them. Their father, an ex-Air Force fighter pilot, pushed them towards such activities and also taught them to drive.
“Do not to get distracted by the fear of injury, stay focused in the pursuit of victory,” Neha quoted her father.
Neha added that she wanted to become a fighter pilot but since the Indian Air Force doesn't have a provision of having women as fighter pilots, she chose motorsport to fulfil her desire for thrill.
Hardships and struggle
Nothing is achieved without struggle, moreso for female drivers in motorsport. Some of the male counterparts, after all, still get particularly peeved at losing to women.
And the seemingly outdated notion that “girls” are not meant to drive cars, leave alone compete in motorsport events, still survives to this very day.
“Quite often, I have been the only female on track and some male drivers are not welcoming to a female’s presence, they definitely don’t like losing to one or even working for one,” Sneha said.
“But over time I have overcome this resistance and once the helmet is on, I am nothing else but a racing driver,” she added.
“I have faced many difficulties when I started my career,” Mira said.
“My competitors demoralised me with comments and tried to distract me from the races. They used to push me out of the track during the race.
“But I always stayed calm and my focus was on racing. When I started winning racing, I feel it proved people wrong,” Mira added.
Aside from the gender-specific issues, the drivers faced the usual problem in motorsport - it's expensive nature.
“It’s known that racing is an expensive sport. I haven’t yet had enough sponsorship to reach my full potential,” Sneha stated.
“Until now, I have only driven the categories that I could afford or had JK Tyre sponsorship for. I am supporting my passion with the money I earn through my work,” she added.
Along with the commercial side, fitness plays a vital role and is something Sneha has to work really hard on. After all, the high g-forces involved and the requirement of upper body strength to drive the car demand serious training.
But in all hardships, the drivers were adamant their family and friends supported them to achieve the dream they set out for.
Neha and Ria also mentioned the coaching of Indian driver Aditya Patel and Rayo Racing’s Rayomand Banajee for all their help.
While it is only the start of their long and hard journey, every driver aspires to represent India at the International stage.
The immediate future for Sneha is to compete at the senior level in the Formula BMW category of the JK Tyre championship, but her ultimate goal is to do single-seater racing in Europe.
Mira has big ambitions to become India’s first female F1 racer but also has her eyes on touring and sportscar racing internationally.
Neha and Ria aim to compete internationally in a few years' time as they gain experience racing in the Vento Cup series.