Motorsport Talkies | A conversation with Aishwarya Pissay
Aishwarya Pissay is a 26 year old racing rider, riding for TVS in rally series around the world. She has raced and won multiple championships in both tarmac and dirt riding. We sat down with her to get an understanding on the world of rallying, her determined wins at Rally De Hampi and the Rally of Himalayas, and understand what it takes to be a successful woman motorsport rider.
Akaash Bhadra: How sweet was your victory at Rally De Hampi? And could you tell us how you prepared for the weekend and how it unfolded?
Aishwarya Pissay: Seven months ago I had a crash at the World Cup and I broke both my wrists. So I've been working on my recovery since. One of the ways I have been preparing is working on my physical fitness, my skill, my time as well as my mental fitness. Along with that, I also went to the Rally of Himalayas last weekend. And I happened to finish fifth in the overall with 75 riders as well being first in the women's category. So, the win at Hampi was sweet because I put in all the work and also went and competed in the most difficult terrain i.e. the Himalayas. And Hampi was definitely a piece of cake after a race like the Rally of Himalayas.
Akaash Bhadra: Speaking of Rally of Himalayas, apart from the strenuous difficulty of the track, was it as scenic as it looked in the pictures?
Aishwarya Pissay: Honestly, it is scenic and beautiful. But during the race, I really don't have the time to look around. So the scenic part didn't matter as much as the boulders and the river crossings. That's more or less the only thing I can recollect from the race at this point.
Akaash Bhadra: You suffered broken wrists after your crash at the Bajas World Cup in Jordan. Could you tell us about your road to recovery from there?
Aishwarya Pissay: At the time when it happened, it was definitely hard on me. And you know, I couldn't win the race due to the accident. It was definitely devastating, but I did not let that bring my spirits down. Instead, I spoke to my coaches after my accidents happened, and then I had to get two more surgeries back here. So we looked for a doctor who could understand my sport and my injury and help me recover faster. So in total, I had about four surgeries and on the fifteenth day I had started by rehab where I started working on my physical fitness, my endurance, things that I could do without using my wrists. And I think that the ecosystem that I had around me at that point from my coaches, my previous racing manager Salvaraj to my ride coach. All of these people played a very important role and which is how I have gotten back stronger. And I think my performance at the Rally of Himalayas was an example to me as to how much better I've gotten. The compound effect along with the hard work that I've been putting in over the lockdown as well made sure I could get back on the bike. All of it was showing when I was back on the bike this time.
Akaash Bhadra: Now it is a common aspect to be involved in a few accidents in your profession? Do these accidents ever deter your confidence? And how much is your determination important for the ecosystem around you to help me out?
Aishwarya Pissay: I think it goes hand in hand. Yes, you know, having a crash like the one that I did, people have been complaining about not having the range of motion (in the wrists), but I think the fact that I wanted to get back was very important. The fact that I wouldn't give up is something that has always been with me. And I cannot let something like an accident stop me from doing what I love. And which is where I think the ecosystem plays a very important role. I know that I don't want to give up, but if I don't have the people around me like those who support me to be able to do whatever I can and push me at this point. And I think the right people being in this really makes the difference. And they go hand in hand.
Akaash Bhadra: In your expert opinion, what are the key differences when you ride on a race track versus a dirt track? How do you manage to ride both so successfully?
Aishwarya Pissay: So like I started my career with road racing. I was training a lot for it. I mean the basic grabbing style, riding posture, the styles of riding are different. But I think with continuous effort and training day in and day out made me so versatile and helped me win those championships. But a few things that are different are in the track. I definitely know what is going to come ahead as I have the layout in the back of my mind. In case of rallying, I don't know what's coming next even if we have the maps and navigation. When we're racing, it's not the same when we're rallying. In rallying, the track and conditions, it's ever changing. And the body positions and riding styles are also different. As well as, there's no navigation on the road racing whereas it is present on the off-road racing. So these are the three key things that are different. But I think with the continued effort that I've put in for practice, I think that's how I've been able to succeed in both.
Akaash Bhadra: And how are the machines different for both the categories?
Aishwarya Pissay: Road race machines are more aggressive than the rally ones. The dynamics of the bikes are completely different, both on board and off board. Like on board it's essentially the lean angles and the aerodynamic posture. They (manufacturers) generally tend to design the bikes around these parameters. Whereas for off-road, they design the bike to be able to absorb different sorts of terrain like sand or rocks or like the water. So different kinds of things. So the whole dynamics of the bike are completely different based on the terrain we ride on. From the geometry of the bike, to the suspension of the bike, to the handlebar on the bike, to the position of the handlebar on the bike, to the way we ride them, the style, all of this is different.
Akaash Bhadra: So, is there a particular age for joining motorsports? Or do we just have to be young at heart?
Aishwarya Pissay: I think young at heart for sure. That would be my answer because I started racing when I was 18 and I found my way up. And if I can do it, then definitely anyone can.
Akaash Bhadra: How different or how much progress would you say motorsport has made in India for women since you started out? And how much further do we have to go, in terms of infrastructure and thinking when compared to the other countries?
Aishwarya Pissay: Well I still think we're far behind. Definitely, it's in a better place from when I had started. But it's still not enough to be able to have the same equal voice in motorsports. Motorsport has always been a male dominated sport. When I started racing, I was racing with the boys. Like there were 40 boys and I was the only girl with them on road racing. And even with rallies and everything, essentially there are very few. Like even globally when I imagine there are like five women racing. The participation has been evolving like, especially with the TVS one-make, they have 16 women racing, now they have a grid full of women racing. Which is a great improvement. But I still think that we're gonna take a long time for the entire society to be able to accept women to be in motorsports. I think we still have a long way to go.
Akaash Bhadra: If you had a stage and you had young motorsport enthusiastic girls, what would you tell them?
Aishwarya Pissay: Firstly, motorsport doesn't discriminate against gender. When you're racing, it's your skill that matters the most and nothing else and I think it's very important for all the budding people to put in the time and effort into training themselves physically, mentally. It is like a holistic approach and I think it is very important for them to not let anything deter them and just keep on heading towards what they want to achieve.
Akaash Bhadra: As you travel around the globe rallying in all corners of the world, what is the most Bangalore or Karnataka thing that you miss?
Aishwarya Pissay: Masala Dosas.
Akaash Bhadra: Aha! You don't get the same in the rest of the world now, do you?
Aishwarya Pissay: Definitely not. And definitely not like Bangalore's.
Akaash Bhadra: With all these races that you've participated in this year, are they a testbed for your Dakar 2022 appearance?
Aishwarya Pissay: No I don't think they were the test bed for it. But right now, I am working on getting to 100 from my injuries. I mean they are normal, but I need to work on improving myself, improving my wrists, and I still need to work on navigation, riding the big bikes, which is not going to happen until January and I don't think I would be making an appearance at Dakar, but I'm sure I'm going to be preparing for it next year and the following years.
Akaash Bhadra: Do you enjoy navigation on rallies? How would you explain the navigation aspect of rallies to someone who has just seen the sport on TV?
Aishwarya Pissay: Personally, yes I do enjoy the whole concept of rallying and the navigation aspect of it. It's like an adventure when I have to navigate through to collect the waypoints which gives me points to finish the race as well as be on the right path. So for someone who doesn't understand what navigation is completely, unlike our Indian races where we rely on complete GPS, on the international races we use something called the scroll book in which every face note has kilometers and cap heading, directions, and information like whether the track is on the dirt or on the road. Like you can see the cap heading to capture the waypoint. So, this is like a basic idea of what navigation looks like. And as a rider, we have to be able to look at the kilometers and also keep scrolling the roll book as we're moving, making sure they are validating the kilometers as well as the roll book. So we don't get lost, you know, and getting lost in a desert like that, without people around can really cost us a lot of time as well as probably might lose our race. So it's very important to be able to look at the cap headings, kilometers, and the roll book to keep validating us to keep moving forward. And waypoints are a way of telling us that we are on the right way and we're capturing all the points we win along the way. So that's pretty much how navigation works.
Akaash Bhadra: So is it safe to say you've never got lost on Google Maps?
Aishwarya Pissay: I would say you would get lost on Google Maps, probably if you navigate you won't on a scroll book.
Akaash Bhadra: How many times have you scared someone who sat behind you for a ride?
Aishwarya Pissay: I think in the initial years that I was riding for a hobby right, then I've scared people. It was not intentional but it has happened. But over the course of time that I've been racing, I am not very comfortable having anyone on the back because it's riskier for me as well if we have a crash.
Akaash Bhadra: What is the daily ride that you have in the garage right now?
Aishwarya Pissay: At this point, I don't have a bike. I'm driving. So I have a car.
Akaash Bhadra: Which of the Indian tracks, dirt or tarmac, is your favorite? And which motorcycle would you take there?
Aishwarya Pissay: Dirt or tarmac.... Dirt, Himalayas, my 450 RTR Apache.
Akaash Bhadra: Thank you so much Aishwarya.
Aishwarya Pissay: Cheers! Thank you Akaash, bye!
Aishwarya Pissay will not be participating for Dakar 2022 due to her recovery from the injury she picked up at Bajas World Cup in Jordan. But she is determined to fight through this and keep Dakar as her aim for the future. And for now, she is getting her grip back by winning the rally of Hampi and the Himalayas. For more updates and news from the motorsport world, stay tuned to evo India!