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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! She is India's fastest woman racer who set a storm in the international racing circuit. Twenty-seven-year-old Sneha Sharma put up a scorching display on March 19 to finish second overall in the Ladies Cup of the Proton Saga Advanced category in the MSF series, first round held in Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia. Sneha, one of the first women to break into racing circles in the country, was the only Indian driver in this championship too. She raced in a Proton Saga for Team DV Motorsport and was sponsored by JK Tyre, competing against a formidable grid of 70 cars divided into four categories: Pro, Advanced, Intermediate and Casual. She clocked a best time of 2.57.4 and was classified for the Advanced category which is an achievement by itself and crossed the line first in Race 1 and second in Race 2. Sneha took a highly creditable sixth position in the overall Advanced category. “It was my maiden international win it felt great to be able to compete and stand on the podium. It was phenomenal and driving the races back to back with a neck to neck competition until the chequered flag dropped was amazing. I had zero practice before this race. The car I drove had a carburettor engine. It is pretty different from other cars. Been able to win for my team and my country feels really great," said Sneha to The Bridge. Sneha, who is pretty pumped up after her victory is ready to take the track in the next round of MSF series which is scheduled on April 14.
It was back in 2004, 14-year-old Sneha fell in love with go-karting. "The moment I sat in the kart, I felt one with it, the adrenaline rush was like never before, I then decided this is how I want to feel for the rest of my life. I found out later that karting is the bases of all formula drivers across the world. I remember collecting my lunch money to practice go-kart and always tried to make the fastest lap time," said the Mumbai resident. The moment of reckoning her love for racing came when one day she came across two high-speed drivers on the track driving in sync. On enquiring to the mechanics about them, she came to know that they were national champions. "I knew at once that I have to make it to the arena, somehow and someday, I did not have access to professional training, so I paid the mechanics who used to work on the track and asked them to train me with basic techniques such as raking turning, accelerating and overtaking. with these limited skills, I started participating in a lot of local races, many of which I would win." In one such races organised by Times of India, Sneha grabbed the top two position even after being pitted against a lot of professionally trained drivers. It was during this race; she caught the eye of a national team. "Thus began my journey with the national team, with whom I drove in various series across India," said Sneha. She participated in the JK Tyres National Four-Stroke Championship winning ten podium finishes in 2009. Sneha also stood in the Top five at the Mercedes Young Star Driver Programme clocking a speed of 260 KMPH. She continued to excel in formula racing achieving regular podium finishes in the all-male grid. In January this year, Sneha was one of only 50 racers in the world to get selected for the qualifier stage of the world-renowned racing Championship W series under the mentorship of Formula 1 drivers David Coulthard and Alex Wurtz where she drove Porche on various track conditions including ice and snow in Melk, Austria.
Speed is something Sneha always been fond of. Apart from being a racer, she is an accomplished pilot with one of India’s top domestic airlines.
"Once the helmet is on, I am not a man or a woman; I am only a racing driver. With this attitude, I was able to perform well and win quite a few races, on an all-male grid where I was the only woman. I always say, entering the sport is easy, but remaining in it, and sustaining, let along win, is difficult, but for me, it was totally worth it," said Sneha. Sneha had been out of contention several times owing to the injuries she endured pursuing the sport, but nothing could tame her indomitable spirit. Every time she came with a harder knock. "I have had petrol burns, rib fractures, hairline fractures in the spine, I also endured injury on both my knees. After my recovery, this was my first win, which made it very special." She adds, "I took a long hiatus from racing because of my injury. Before that, I was driving at the national circuit, but when I came back, I started driving on international races." When asked about her experience of balancing both her duty as a race driver and a commanding pilot, Sneha laughed and remarked. "As strange as it may sound, I got my racing licence, before my flying licence, and after getting my flying licence, I got my driving licence."
Despite her parents' restriction, Sneha stormed into the 'male-dominated' sports because of her sheer love affair with the wind flowing across her hair and beautiful orchestra of the raving engine.
Indigo where her dream took wingsFrom the age of 16, Sneha had been juggling between the two responsibilities. She started my ground classes for CPL when along with pursuing her 12th standard examination and National Karting. "It was a tough call, and since my family was not happy about my choice of sport did not help either. They later came around, as they realised I was able to manage my academics along with my racing. I did this by carrying my books on track and studying between driving sessions and sometimes on the bus while travelling to the race track," said Sneha. Sneha gives a lot of her credit to Indigo, where her dream took wings. She said, "I got enrolled with Indigo at the age of 20, and since the age of 21 I have been flying the Airbus 320 in and out of the country, I recently received my command on the aircraft in 2018. It takes a lot of time management to fly and race simultaneously. My airline supports me a lot. In a month, I fly for 15 days a month, and the rest of 15 days I keep for racing. They are also my sponsors along with JK Tyres and DV Motosport in Malaysia." Sneha, whose immediate focus remains on training and fitness ahead of the next round of the MSF, believes the recent podium finish given her the right momentum with which she will try to set her part into European racing, where she wants to compete in as early as possible.