Motorsport has been a male-dominated sport (and profession) ever since it came into being and except for a few around the world, women do not have much of a stake in it. Putting this into perspective, chances of an Indian female participating, let alone succeeding, in motorsport is an exponentially magnified version of an aberration. However, Mumbai’s Sneha Sharma is a splendid manifestation of that aberration.
One requires an extraordinary amount of confidence to be able to succeed in motorsport and the need becomes higher if you belong to a section with absolutely no history. Sneha Sharma, a 26-year-old, who belongs to Mumbai, is a full-time pilot with Indigo and juggles both her passions – flying and racing – together.
Present at the 19th JK Tyre-FMSCI National Racing Championship, Sharma spoke to Sportskeeda after her race, which she was not able to complete due to a malfunction in her accelerator. “I was pretty disappointed on not completing the race. Overall, it was a weekend of good racing and I managed a personal best in a race yesterday, which was also just two seconds off the best timing,” she said.
Her knowledge of the Buddh International Circuit is exceptional and she knows the track quite comprehensively. “I have driven here before and the track has changed a bit. There are a couple of bumps, one of which is quite harsh. Barring these exceptions, BIC is pretty well maintained and it is a lovely track to race,” she said.
Hard work to juggle two careers
Most people have a hard time managing a single career but Sharma juggles with two high-intensity ones. How does she do it?
“As compared to other drivers, I do not get any time to practice at all. I have to directly come on race weekends and work really hard to manage a top-five finish. With flying, it gets a bit difficult to manage races but I use all my leaves and off-days to race. Indigo is also my sponsor and they help me work things out. I want to switch to racing full time but it is really expensive and I need to sustain myself as well,” she stated.
Sharma flies six times a week and has to focus a lot on her fitness, given the demanding nature of her working schedule. “Women, naturally, are physically weaker than men and since I am competing in a sport where they are the majority, I need to work doubly hard to be at par with them. There are several technicalities to the way you work out as a racer and you cannot be stiff. This is why I do a lot of power yoga and swimming,” she added.
Battling stereotypes and sexism
Being a woman driver, Sneha Sharma faced a great deal of sexism from others, including and especially fellow drivers, who told her to “go back home,” “learn how to drive” and “women are not supposed to be racers.” Does all this affect her?
“It used to affect me initially but then I stopped thinking of myself as a girl and realised that when I put on the helmet, I am nothing but a race driver,” she says with absolute confidence.
Despite wanting to learn a lot more about racing, Sharma often gets sidelined by her peers in post-race discussions since she is a “girl.” “I have to do a lot of research online to gain knowledge. Often, I sit and talk to car mechanics, who tell me a lot about the details and inner-workings of machines. I face a lot of issues but tend to take them in my stride and avoid stressing over them,” Sharma says.
Bold and outspoken, Sharma does not hold back while talking and her attitude is exactly similar on the racing track. She has big dreams and wants to be a part of Formula racing in the future. “I want to race in Formula BMW but it is highly demanding physically and I do not think I am ready to do so at the moment,” she says.
Sharma might not be as famous as other sporting stars in the country and might not even become one in the future but she is definitely an inspiration for young women who want to take up motorsport racing.