Women are often stereotyped as bad drivers, but like all stereotypes, it is completely baseless. And this Mumbai girl proves it for all of us. Sneha Sharma, who through her fearless spirit is making a name for herself in the male-dominated world of motorsport, shares with HerSaga her experience and her journey to becoming India’s youngest female Formula 4 Racer.
“Speed thrills me and being behind the wheels gives me immense pleasure.”
From cycling and sailing with her father to high speed racing, Sneha’s life has been a race towards her dreams and there is no stopping her.
From the beginning
She started karting at the age of 16 at local tracks in Mumbai. Having discovered her passion for speed, she went on to participate in local races held at the race tracks. Sneha received no professional training, but she left no stone unturned in exploring her options.
“I had no professional training and I didn’t know where to go. So I asked the mechanics to train me a little bit. They helped me with racing lines and cornering techniques and some breaking points etc. I used to practice, and I used to get a lot of podium finishes.”
With a talent like hers, it did not take long for her to get noticed. In a race conducted by the Times of India, Sneha was approached by Team Rayo Racing to drive with them in the National Karting Championship. This was the beginning of the most thrilling race of her life. Sneha gathered a lot of accolades and she became the only girl to qualify in the KCT (Karting Championship Trophy) category in MRF. She was placed second in the 4-stroke JK tyre Championship and participated in several championships like the Volkswagen Polo Cup among others. With JK Tyres and Indigo Airlines as her sponsors, Sneha is currently driving the Formula 4 in the National Championship along with National Carting.
As a science student pursuing a pilot license, Sneha gave in her best efforts to accomplish her goals she had set for herself. Her journey in life is no less than a high speed race.
“I would carry my books on the track and I would study while travelling, because I knew I had to fulfill my commitments to become a pilot. I had to even take a loan to do that. My parent initially didn’t welcome the idea of me racing and they didn’t understand that why I’d developed this sudden thrill for racing, since it is also a dangerous sport with high speed and high accident risks. Over time, they came around and they now support me after seeing my performance. I used to lie at home, hide my helmet somewhere and say that I am going somewhere else and then go for practice.”
Sneha, today, is a racer as well as a pilot for Indigo Airlines.
As a Female Racer
For over years, racing is looked at as a man’s sport, but it is high time we change that. As a female driver, Sneha faced a lot of discrimination. She was often intimidated, commented upon and told that she didn’t belong there. She was at times pushed off track and hit while racing.
“Most often I’m the only woman on the grid and it is difficult. Initially it was very difficult, but over time I overcame that. Once the helmet is on, I am only a racing driver.”
She put an end to all the criticism by performing and moved up in the racing world. She showed everyone that she was there to race and that she intended to stay.
“I am not a feminist, I am an individualist. I think every individual should push and achieve their full potential in whatever field they like, whether it is racing or dancing.”
She believes that we as a nation have come far and we have a lot of potential. Be it a woman or a man, everyone should put in their best efforts to get hold of their dreams.
The Roller Coaster Ride
Racing is a difficult sports. Players are often injured and many a times, pushed to the edge by the tight schedule. But the winner is always the one who beats all odds and focuses only on the finishing line. Sneha also had her shares of ups and downs. She had a lot of injuries. She cracked a rib, got petrol burns and is currently driving with a neck support due to a neck injury. Apart from the physical strains, another hardship that she faced was getting sponsorship.
“It’s very difficult to get sponsorship and I did not always had money to race. I used to work part-time with my team- manage the team, train people and tune the cars a little bit, so that I would get a subsidized drive and afford my racing.”
Now, Sneha due to her endless efforts and remarkable performance, is receiving sponsorship from JK Tyres and Indigo Airlines. Despite the difficulties, she always raced to the end.
“Once my car wouldn’t start. My engine was not of a very good quality as I couldn’t afford a very good part. The race was about to start and my car wouldn’t start. Somebody came and helped with the engine and I started last on the grid. But, I finished second in the race.”
She looks back at this as the happiest moment in her journey.
Tomorrow, as she looks at it
5 years from now, Sneha sees herself representing India at Formula racing at International level.
Sneha has always loved speed. She flies in the sky and it does not scare her. She speeds on race tracks and it does not scare her.
“My biggest fear is having a DNF i.e. Did not finish. It is a terminology used in racing. Results come out. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and so on. And then there is DNF, like when somebody hits your car or your car has a mechanical fault or if you crash. You do not finish and that is my biggest fear.”
“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”
– Thomas Jefferson
These are the words, that Sneha lives by. She looks up to her mother as her role model. When asked to send out a message to the people, this is what she said.
“Go do it. Now is the time. If I can do it, so can you.”
Sneha has overcome a lot of difficulties to finally be where she is now. She would sleep in some corner in the racing facility whenever she had some time to spare or sleep in the boxes in which race cars come. Her typical day involves racing, flying, exercising and sleeping. She also lost a lot of weight in order to stay fit. She cracked her rib, but did not let the pain get in the way and completed her race weekend, and also received the Best Rookie Trophy for the same. Every extraordinary dream requires extraordinary effort. And only people who can push their limits have a shot at finishing the race in life. We hope that in near future, we see Sneha making a name for India in International Motorsport Events. All the best, Sneha.