"Even as a young adult on vacations, I’d spend my shopping fund on renting a sports car instead of spending it on shoes and bags" says Diana Pundole about her journey in motorsports
Diana Pundole is a racing driver who has participated and won in multiple formats of racing. She started driving cars from a very young age and she hasn’t left the steering wheel since. Her work ethic is something that is spoken with high regard along with her dedication to be faster on track. Now, she is participating in the VW Polo Championship and as it turns out, she is the only female driver on the grid. After her races in the second round of the championship, we sat down with her to get a glimpse into her motorsport career and to find out what drives her to get behind the wheel.
Akaash Bhadra: Could you tell us when your fascination for motorsport began?
Diana Pundole: I have always been fascinated by speed. Driving and racing have been instilled in me from a very young age. Both my parents were excellent drivers and my father would not miss a single Formula 1 race weekend for anything else and so I found myself growing up watching Top Gear on TV, reading and listening to Jeremy Clarkson, Tiff Needell, Vicky Butler Henderson and the likes. My grandfather encouraged me to do a reasonable amount of go-karting when I was all of seven, as part of nothing more than an amusement activity. My mother was quick to recognise my excitement and eagerness to learn to drive a manual car and it all began when she taught me how to drive. I had mastered it in no time and since then, there hasn’t been a single time when I didn’t want to get behind the wheel of any given car. Even as a young adult on vacations, I’d spend my shopping fund on renting a sports car instead of spending it on shoes and bags. Driving was a passion from the start, to say the least.
AB: Tell us about your journey in motorsport - what series/championships have you taken part in over the years?
DP: I started karting as a recreational hobby when I was in school and college profoundly unaware of my skills and talent for it. A few years after that I participated in JK Tyre’s Nation-wide talent hunt for Women in Motorsport held at Kari Motor Speedway in Coimbatore where I won a fully sponsored racing season in the JKNRC. While I continued participating in open-wheel racing there and enjoying it thoroughly, I also gained interest in racing touring and stock cars and so I entered a couple of Autocross races at the Buddh International Circuit with X-Factor and won those too. That’s when I went back to karting followed by training at the Autodrome in Dubai to feed an acute desire and serious intent to learn racecraft. I realised that I have steadily advanced in this field when my efforts and achievements were recognized by a few distinguished people, who then encouraged me to compete in the MMSC Volkswagen Polo Cup National Racing Championship. But since Covid had hit the country in a big way at that time and there wasn’t much that could be done here, I continued testing and practising at MMRT and in the UAE on track days whenever I could. Eventually, the racing season began and here we all are now in the thick of it all.
AB: How has the VW Polo Cup season gone for you so far?
DP: The VW Polo Cup has been nothing but an exhilarating experience right from the start. Nothing better than getting back on the race track for some racing action and cutthroat competition with several very well experienced racing drivers from in and around the country. The team’s dedication to professionalism is unmistakable under the lively yet astute direction of Sirish Vissa - Head of Motorsport at VW. There is no pretence in their spirit for encouraging women in motorsport which is evident in their appointing talented female race engineers and technicians who I’m privileged to call friends.
This season started at the end of September, with a day of practice followed by two days of racing. Round 1 didn’t go quite as per plan owing to a tyre burst on the out-lap before the formation lap due to which, I started from the back of the grid for Race 1. But even then, I was quick in gaining seven places in five laps and in the sixth lap, a car spun ahead and collided directly into me after losing control in the grass. This ended my 1st race. The VW team was swift in fixing my car before Race 2. However, as soon as the lights went out, I saw the grid pull away from me. I knew immediately that something was off and that there was a major lag in power. From doing consistent 1.56 minute laps I was down to 2.07 minute laps instead.
Nonetheless, I didn’t want to give up on my race. I knew I was going to come last, and I was consumed with anguish and despair at my sheer bad luck. However, my deep-seated fighting spirit overcame all of the dejection. I had my mindset on finishing this and not leaving halfway or pitting early and so I continued till I took the chequered flag. I remember Sirish’s approbatory words to me later about how he was impressed that I didn’t submit to ill-fate and battled on to the end.
I returned for Round 2 with more conviction and vying to make a comeback after what I had been through in Round 1. Race 1 was an introduction to the first wet race in the car. I began cautiously, adjusted to the track conditions and gained a couple of places. Much to my surprise, I realised that I enjoy racing in wet conditions which allow that extra sliver to the premise of car control and makes racing far more prepossessing than it already is. One of the notable differences in driving on the limit in dry vs wet is that, in dry weather, you aim for being the fastest. However, in wet weather conditions, you drive to maximise the limit of car control with hardly any margin for error. I ended Race 2 confidently in sixth position knowing I could have done better if it wasn’t for a host of racing incidents that I braved in the first lap of the race. Having said that, I come away with much learning and even more happy memories as I ended a race weekend superbly after a long time.
AB: There are two more rounds in the VW Polo Championship. Where do you see yourself aiming in the championship table? Who do you consider as your rivals?
DP: I am aiming to win both rounds. For me, I am my own rival. I will never be satisfied with what I achieve and I will always keep pushing to be better than I am.
AB: You’ve done some open-wheel racing in the past, and now you’ve jumped into the Polo Cup car. What would you say is the biggest difference between the two? Which do you prefer?
DP: The biggest difference is aerodynamics and G-force. This is especially true because open-wheel race cars combine a lightweight chassis with a high-powered engine. The same was the case with weight distribution and how it affected braking points and cornering speeds. Ergo, I had to change my driving style as I started driving sports cars or race prepped saloon/touring cars. At any rate, as I said before, I would jump into either of these platforms, as long as I’m driving hard and to the limit!
AB: Female influence in the world of Indian motorsport is slowly rising up with you being one of the leading examples. Could you tell us how your experience has been being the only female candidate in the VW Polo Championship?
DP: When it comes to anything in life, not just motorsport, I have never been one for expecting to be treated any better or worse under the pretext of being a girl. What I think is worth mentioning about this championship is that we are all advised and examined equally on the basis of our aptitude and fundamentals for racing and not judged based on gender, ethnicity, nationality or physical attributes. This non-judgemental and level playing field makes the winners truly worthy of their result. Not only is it important in motorsport, but also in the advancement of science and technology, human exploration of space and beyond. What we need is a sieve that filters the most appropriate person for the task regardless of gender biases.
Thus my answer to your question is not from the point of view of being the only female racer amongst my male counterparts, I feel exactly the same as any one of them would feel about being here – which is excellent.
AB: Could we hope to see you in other formats of racing? If yes, what might they be?
DP: I would ideally want to be in one category and move to a different format of racing only when I feel that I am satisfied with my performance. At the moment, I am open to every format of racing which includes single-seater, saloon cars, etc. Throw me a challenge and I’m more than eager to ace it. I will be focusing on the VW cup for now and once done, I may do some more single-seater racing. Besides, I'm also testing the Ferrari 458 Challenge car, the M3 and the Clio Cup car to name a few, in the UAE and might participate in the Pro Cup series there.
AB: We heard you have a fascination in reading. Could you recommend a list of must-reads for our readers?
DP: I have a fascination for reading, as well as playing the piano, bicycling and singing. I also engage in writing examinations for blind students in my city whenever I can. However, for the benefit of motorsport enthusiasts reading this, I strongly recommend reading,
‘Drive To Win’ -Carroll Smith,
‘Go Like Hell’ -A.J. Baime
‘The Perfect Corner’ -Adam Brouillard
And ‘The Art of War’ -Sun Tzu
AB: If you had the stage to address a few young female motorsport enthusiasts, how would you guide them into this world?
DP: Motorsport has been a predominantly male hobby since day one. But times have changed and the number of women getting behind the wheel has increased by leaps and bounds. Breaking down gender barriers should be all the easier in a sport where appearances are least obvious and in this sport, you don’t see the driver because they have got a helmet on. All you see is the performance and not his or her looks. Once you’re in the car it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female but it’s about how good you are behind the wheel. I hope that more young girls, who find themselves interested in motorsport, start enrolling themselves on training programs without much ado. This is an interesting time in motorsport history when women are being encouraged, supported in terms of guidance, training and this should be enough reason to trigger your passion for motorsport. So my advice to every young aspiring girl wanting to take this profession seriously is to go to the nearest go-karting track to gauge your racing abilities and then move up to different categories from there.
AB: Who do you idolise in the world of motorsport? And could you tell us about one quality or attribute that we could take away from the personality?
DP: As a child, I idolised many famous stalwarts of racing such as Aryton Senna, James Hunt and Michael Schumacher. In recent years, I have been inspired by Kimi Raikkonen, Jamie Chadwick and Max Verstappen. I strongly relate with not only their strengths but also their weaknesses which make them more appealing as real-life people who face real-life challenges like the rest of us and emerge from them stronger than before. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with Mr Gurunath Meiyappan occasionally on my driving abilities, racing strategies and someday aspire to be as aggressive and precise a racer as he is. Among several salient qualities that struck me, the one I would like to mention is his ability to identify the core actions required to achieve a result.
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