Adrienne Bende, former Miss Hungary who started the championships in 2011, speaks to Dhiman Chattopadhyay about her passion for speed, becoming professional racer, her team members and the possibility of the F1 circuit in India hosting the Lotus Cup one day
Adrienne Bende, Veronika Vanyova, Sheila Verschuur and their pals will stand out in any crowd, quite simply because they are stunningly beautiful women. But hang on. They are also three of the fastest women drivers in the world, all licenced to compete in the Lotus Ladies Cup, an FIA-recognised race which sees 14 women behind the wheels set the tracks on fire with speeds reaching in excess of 200kmph. We can almost hear those gasps.
We caught up with the Lotus Ladies last week when they arrived in India to try and inspire Indian women to take to motorsports. In India to take part in the Ultima Queens Cup organised by JK Tyre, the gang led by champion racer and founder of the Lotus Ladies Cup Adrienne Bende, seems confident that India would soon be on the world women’s racing circuit. And that sounds cool when you learn that their annual championship has just received official recognition from the Federation Internationale de Automobile (FIA) the governing body that also runs the Formula 1 races.
So what cars do they drive and how does the Lotus Cup work? The drivers, says Bende, are from across Scandinavia, East Europe and Latin America and race VW Polos. “Our races are held on F1 tracks or similar racing tracks where we drive for 30 minutes each plus one extra lap, to determine the fastest driver in each race,” she says. Currently the races are held in Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, The Netherlands and Dubai and a sixth race will be added to the circuit in 2014.
“When we started in 2010, men would make fun of us. But when they saw our zeal and determination, they started following our progress. We can say that now they respect us for what we stand for and follow us,” Bende laughs as she recalls those early days.
The big boost, of course, came earlier this year when the FIA recognition came their way. “It sort of gave us legitimacy, made us recognised professionals. We are now looking to add a sixth venue to our annual calendar. And India is definitely on the cards as a possible venue,” quips Bende.
The racers are from diverse backgrounds as well as from different parts of the world. The reigning 2012 champion Sheila Verschuur is a Dutch army officer who loves skiing but has racing in her blood. “I come from a family of motor sports champions. In the past 11 years, I have driven against men and I feel the Lotus Cup has lot of potential,” Verschuur tells us when we catch up with her briefly.
Other competitors for the 2014 edition include Veronika Vanyova, a 20-year-old Slovak with looks that could land her a Bollywood role, but who loves driving her car at 250kmph instead; Glory Fernandez, a champion racer from Puerto Rico and Liesette Berg, a 42-year-old Scandinavian who looks half her age and drives faster than most Indian men.
Uncommon as it is seeing 10 women blazing the racing track on the F1 circuit, we are still left wondering if a race involving women racing cars inside a stadium will bring in the moolah. “India is a lot like Hungary. It will take a lot of time for women to come out and get on racing tracks. But I hope, our participation at the Ultima Queens Cup will be recognised and will inspire women to take up motor racing in a big way in India,” says Bende, sounding hopeful.
Sanjay Sharma, head of Motor Sports at JK Tyre however, sounds a lot more confident. “By getting these international women racers, we wanted to encourage women to take up motor sport, which is otherwise considered a male-dominated sport. Just looking at the response we saw at our event, I am sure as a spectator sport, women’s racing has tremendous potential. With 10 women on the tracks, we had the Grand Stand at the Buddh International Circuit cheering all the way.
Just imagine when the number increases and it is a part of an international cup, what impact it might have,” he tells us. While India might not make it to the Lotus Cup circuit in 2014 when the sixth spot is up for grabs, maybe, just maybe we will soon see an Indian Racing League for women with crowds egging them on to the chequered flag. Pipe dream? Wait and watch.