Rehana Reya plans to restart her foray into international racing in the upcoming year
2020 was a tough year all around, more so for motorsport, considering the sheer amount of time and effort that went into championship seasons that were postponed by many months, and that too in many cases cut down to the bare minimum number of rounds. In the midst of all this, motorcycle athlete Rehana Reya had a suitably hard time as well. Racing since 2016, she was the winner in the Women’s class at 2019 Indian National Motorcycle Racing Championship (INMRC), and more recently, the national champion in the Women’s class at the 2020 Indian National Rally Sprint Championship as well. Further, she has been a multiple-time podium finisher in many national-level championships, besides having represented the country thrice at the Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) Asia Road Racing Championship (ARRC).
So to go from such a busy schedule to being locked at home was obviously not easy, however, she kept herself active mentally, physically as well as from the point of view of her racecraft. All this helped immensely with her exploits once the lockdown lifted, although an injury hampered her somewhat from exploring all the avenues.
Here, she speaks to evo India on the motorsport scene post lockdown, the highs and a few lows, as well as a few observations from her career so far, regarding motorsport as a whole.
Sudipto Chaudhury – How did you cope with the lockdown?
Rehana Reya – Participating in the national championship needs a lot of physical strength. Staying off the bike was difficult, but I mentally prepared myself watching a lot of videos. I also did a lot of functional workouts via online. I used to go for off-road practice, which I did on private lands, and which really helped in staying in the saddle. Besides, it was good to stay with my family. Due to my busy travel schedule, I couldn’t usually spend much time at home. Besides, the off-road riding was just what I needed to stay ‘connected’ with the bike.
SC – Speaking to other racers, they’ve said they do ‘mental visualisation.’ Is that something you do as well?
RR – Every night before bed, I visualise what to expect and how I will deal with it, from leaving home to reaching my race venue; everything from gearing up to the bike’s setup to its engine response to my racing lines and braking points, I do visualise every minute detail. I also play video games, like MotoGP, as well as read books to help keep my mind calm.
SC – How did getting back to racing feel? Did you have any expectations, and were you able to fulfil them?
RR – Frankly, I found the off-road racing more adventurous. I have been road racing since 2016, and have represented India thrice at the ARRC. But during the lockdown, since I didn’t get any track time, I found off-road riding as the best way to keep riding, and all I needed for it was an empty stretch of land. Though I was initially quite apprehensive, the more I practiced, the better I got, and soon enough people were advising me to compete in this as well. So I entered the Indian National Rally Sprint Championship, and won my class as a debutant, that too with the boys as my competitors as well. Overall, off-road racing is an added value to me, so it’s quite different.
SC – Since off-road and circuit racing is so different, how do you balance the two?
RR – I just think of it as a motorcycle, as my passion; it doesn’t matter whether I’m on a circuit or off-road track, I just look forward to enjoying myself on the bike. Besides, I’m a quick learner, and because of this, I was implementing whatever I learnt, and saw videos on YouTube to help me develop specific skills. The basic agenda, however, stays the same: sit on the bike, and enjoy myself.
SC – Getting back to competing after a long gap, what was your experience? What new thing did you learn about yourself?
RR – Actually my off-road racing season started earlier than my circuit racing schedule. My off-road racing calendar started in October, while the road racing started only in December. Either way, it was an enjoyable experience, and I was motivated to do more. The rally sprint championship gave me quite a mental boost, and since I had a lot of competition from all over India, it felt like a warm-up before my circuit racing schedule. However, I had a crash in the last round of the rally championship in Bengaluru, where I fractured my elbow. This meant I had to sit out the circuit races, as the doctors had prescribed a minimum rest time of two weeks.
Post this, I returned to the sprint rally races, where I secured a good point score. This is one aspect I took quite seriously, so I took all the precautions, including the two weeks of rest. Hence, despite riding with a previously injured hand, I was able to finish first in the overall championship. Overall, however, it was a mixed feeling, considering what I had initially aimed for, and what finally happened. However, I take solace in the fact that I enjoy what I do, and can always do it well!
SC – What comes next on the agenda for the upcoming year? Do you have any plans in place?
RR – There are still the concluding rounds of the Indian National Rally Championship, so that’s the immediate goal. After that, I have my heart set on racing internationally, something which I wanted to do last year itself, but couldn’t due to the Covid situation. But I believe everything will be resolved soon, after which I might be heading back to Spain, where I have a race coming up. And about the off-roading, I plan to do quite a bit of training outside India as well. The main focus, however, stays the same, of taking the title in India.
SC – A somewhat controversial question now: Who do you consider you main rival?
RR – Frankly I don’t see anyone as a rival. Everyone is quite friendly; frankly I see myself as my main rival. This is because I look forward to pushing myself every single time, and seek to break my own records every single day if possible. I firmly believe in constant improvement – what I was yesterday, shouldn’t be what I am today.
SC – Who do you consider your inspiration?
RR – Lots of people honestly; I of course like Valentino Rossi a lot; he was my constant inspiration since even before I started my racing career. Another inspirational figure for me is Laia Sanz (who finished P17 in the 2021 Dakar). Outside of motorsport, I look up to Bruce Lee and Mohammed Ali, not just for their contribution to their sports, but also how they live their lives.
SC – Besides all this, what observations have you made so far in your career that you would like to share?
RR – I generally want to tell all the people and especially women out there to come out of the misconception that this sport is too expensive to try your hand on. I want to break that, and show everyone that even a middle-class person can take part in this sport. I mean every single sport requires a certain amount of investment. Also, I want especially the women to get out of their fear and practice riding their bikes, and participate in races. If nothing, at least try; come out and ride your bikes and enjoy the feeling!
I believe this will also go a long way in ensuring healthy competition as well. Besides, the motorsport sector, especially after the troubles around Covid, has drastically reduced the amount of sponsorship it gets. Hence, the more people who take part, the more it attracts the attention of the public and also the brands. Then, they will also want to invest in us, like they do for tournaments like IPL. At the same time, I am happy the sports ministry has recognised motorsport as an eligible criterion for sports quota in government departments. So I hope this progression helps motorsport athletes get the recognition that they rightly deserve.