On International Women’s day, we focus on Ahura Racing – the only all women’s Formula racing team in India – which made its debut in the 21st JK Tyre National Racing Championship last year. Ahura Racing was founded by Sarosh Hataria, former three-time national champion and the team principal, whose mother was a racer herself. Sarosh also has plans for starting an all women’s racing championship in the near future. Alongside him is Natasha Shah – she was one of the early participants in the first talent hunt and now, she consults for the Ahura Racing team’s business and marketing strategies.
Sirish Chandran: Let’s start from the beginning – why did you start Ahura Racing?
Sarosh Hataria: For me, it was my mother who was the reason for me getting into motorsport – she raced in the 1986-87 All India motorsport races. Her first year was 1986 and she drove in the stock car class and came second. In 1987, she drove again the same class and won the stock car race and that was my introduction to motorsport as a kid – I used to go to the track and watch the races. I was gung ho about it and always wanted to drive I was behind the wheel at every opportunity. Motorsport was after school and now, 20 years down the line, I wanted to hit back and took a break in 2014. There was this opportunity of buying Rayo Racing and restructuring it but I thought of an all women’s team.
SC: So you bought the entire Rayo Racing team?
SH: Yes, the entire Formula 4 team that they have – the six cars, the containers, workshops and everything that they have, I bought it in 2017.
SC: But why only women?
SH: Because there are enough guys and for me particularly to find money in motorsport to continue in it as a career had to become a hobby after five years because I couldn’t find any money to put in, as motorsport is frightfully expensive. I realise that it is still more or less the same way now. Considering there were only two women – Mira Erda and Sneha Sharma in circuit racing, I thought we should get more women involved. Women in motorsport wasn’t even a thought for me but I wanted to make sure a lot more women getting in and being competitive – not being tail light enders at the end of the track, when they are competing against the boys. In karting and all that, they have won races and finished on the podiums, but after that, once they come into circuit racing in the national championships, they haven’t been able to achieve anything as far as podiums or results are concerned.
So I thought let me try and I have realised this as an act of mentor or coach – when I started my career in motorsport, it was Akbar Ebrahim, who was the only mentor or coach and he was really tough as nails – he literally cracked the whip on us and never let us take it easy even for a fraction of a second – and that is what made us. Now I think he has mellowed – we are talking about 20 years later. He is teaching and imparting his knowledge, we don’t have him there, heading us at every corner, and standing, him asking us to run over his toes at the apex. We don’t have someone like that who is pushing us to that extent and I felt I could give that back to the sport, what I learnt from him and the way he was. We have started and since it’s the women and not the boys, I can’t be so tough at them. But we are getting there, one step at a time.
SC: Did you put the cost for everything?
SH: We put the cost for everything and JK gave us the tyres and provided stay for the drivers. They took care of hospitality and hired the track for us when we were doing the training programmes for the girls. So they got a little more track time. They spent just as much as we spent and they have come halfway – they were the ones responsible for what we set out to do and achieve – without the support of JK Tyre Motorsport, our concept of all women’s team wouldn’t have been possible. We didn’t have anyone else for support.
SC: Natasha, how did you hear about this?
NS: It was very well promoted and I got attracted as I love driving; I loved speed and I said why not? He had put a beautiful package together. So even if it was a holiday, I am learning something and coming back. I did not know who Sarosh Hataria was back then and so I looked up about him and I spoke to my family. They were very supportive.
SC: What was the package that he put together?
NS: It was Rs 25,000 inclusive of stay, trainers and training by Sarosh himself. It couldn’t get any better; so he and the rest of the team members trained us for three days – we had fitness sessions, pitlane practice and shootouts.
SC: Who were your top six drivers to start off with?
NS: Roshni, Priyamvada, Lea, Megaa, Ritika and Anjali.
SC: Did all of them take part in the JKNRC?
SH: No, Roshni went on to pursue her Masters and career in the USA. She wanted to do one race and leave, which I said would be unfair to someone who wants to do a championship and so she stepped down and the seventh person came in as the lead driver from round one. Now we have Manisha, who was our reserve driver and is the lead driver now.
SC: So how is it dealing with girls compared to the boys? I am sure that it is all in the head…
SH: It is more or less the same except that the girls are more sensitive. You can’t be very hard on them.
SC: In terms of learning – these girls haven’t had any motorsport experience – it’s obvious that they won’t be on the podium – so in terms of progression through the years, what was that like?
SH: It was good. Megaa was the best of drivers; she was really quick and her progression was good. She almost made the top ten finishes, towards the end, at BIC – her 11th and 13th were the best finishes. She was running in the top ten and she was nudged out.
SC: You have six girls in Ahura Racing. Any plans for women only racing?
SH: We are doing that this year and that is the primary focus. We are doing women’s motorsport carnival in Coimbatore. It’s feasible for us to keep the costs down; it’s a smaller circuit and we can manage easily. We are looking at two rounds, but I don’t think we will be able to put two rounds together if we don’t have the budget. We are also doing a talent hunt. We will complete it by the end of May or first week of June.
SC: Will it run in parallel with JKNRC?
SH: No, it will be an independent event, prior to the JKNRC. We will run our team in the F4 class of the championship. We are going to run the talent hunt, select 15 drivers – we will have cars, bikes, cycle race and it’s an event by itself. It will be a women’s motorsport carnival.
SC: Have you tied up with any manufacturer for bikes?
SH: We are tying up most likely with Suzuki for the bikes, the same Gixxer Cup bikes.
SC: Will you charge for the selection rounds?
SH: Yes – we are charging Rs 50,000. Last year we charged Rs 25,000 and we were out of pocket – the charges included a 3-night stay at the Marriot, transport to and from the track. It wouldn’t have been possible without the support from guys and teams including Afsar, Rohit Khanna (Dark Don Racing), Amit Wagchoure and Kartomania.
SC: These are for the cars – how much for the bikes?
SH: We are still working that out.
SC: Anything more you are planning at the talent hunt?
SH: It will be structured differently – we are going to focus more on people who want to make a career out of it – not for just fun and frolic.
NS: The training will be divided into different levels like basic, intermediate and advanced levels. We are also looking to get a manufacturer involved.
As told to Sirish Chandran