A race apart
A new homegrown league for Indian car racers hopes to bring men and women on a level-playing field
It's less than a week since Sneha Sharma, India's top woman race car driver from Mumbai, recovered from dengue, but she is already up and about. So much so, that when we call her up for the interview, the 28-year-old is en route to a racing track in Chennai for the Formula 4 Southeast Asia Race. At the event, she'll compete with players from Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines. In a month, Sharma spends 15 days flying an aircraft—she's employed as a pilot with Indigo—and the rest is spent racing. "I have no luxury of free time," she says. Sharma is aware that she's being tough on herself, but it's this steely determination that has helped her break the glass ceiling in motorsport. "I have to constantly push myself. That's the only way I'll be able to stay at top of my game," she says.
Founders Amaan Ebrahim and Aditya Patel
Come November, she will showcase her behind-the-wheel prowess at X1 Racing League, the country's first indigenous motorsport league founded by car racers Armaan Ebrahim and Aditya Patel. The matches, including street races, will be held in Mumbai, Chennai and Noida, with each race being played out over 45 minutes. Pushing the theme of gender neutrality in the sport, female drivers will race along with male drivers in the format. "I've always practised alongside men because there weren't enough women players when I joined the sport 12 years ago," says Sharma. At the time, when she would ride a cycle on Mumbai's roads, strangers on motorbikes would try to race with her. "Some would diss me and be downright condescending, while others were fairly encouraging. All I knew was, that I had to beat them," she laughs. And she invariably would. She then ventured into go karting to polish her racing skills. At a 2012 Mercedes racing event, she drove the car at 270 km/hr. The controlled, but astounding speed landed her the title of the 'fastest woman in India'. Borderline obese as a teen weighing 90 kg, she even lost 30 kg so that she could be fit to compete in the sport. In the last decade, Sharma says she's seeing more female drivers entering the arena. "Not too many, but yes the sport has evolved."
Patel, one of the co-founders, says bridging the gender cap in the sport was one of their main objectives behind the league. Although the idea was brewing in their heads for a couple of years, it needed time, resources and sponsorship to hit the ground running. "While we do have a few existing series and championships, we needed a format that would work as a solid hook. We felt a short but highly intense and entertaining race would grab more eyeballs," he says. Anindith Reddy, one of the top names in the domestic motorsports area, who will also participate in the league, believes it's a format that has shown results. "Look at how well kabaddi and football have fared in the homegrown league format," says the three-time Indian national racing champion from Telangana. A mechanical engineer by degree, Reddy works as a healthcare entrepreneur, running two startups when he is not racing. Reddy was a late bloomer in racing, getting into the sport at the age of 23.
The makers will also be launching X1 eSports, a virtual car racing competition for enthusiasts in colleges across the country. "Winners of the competition will bag a chance to be part of a professional racing team and test drive the X1 Racing League car. We want to target the grassroots to find India's next big talent," says Patel.
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