Meet Sneha Sharma, the F4 racer who fought the odds to give flight to her dreams
The story of India’s fastest woman F4 racer Sneha Sharma, who’s also an airline pilot, is sure to give wings to the dreams of those who aspire to follow their heart.
Sneha Sharma got her flying and racing licences before she was licensed to drive. It wasn’t easy as Sneha, now 29 years old, had to battle her family and societal stereotypes to walk on what was seen as an unconventional career path.
But she refused to give up, giving flight to her dreams and inspiring many others with her journey.
Sneha, who used to love racing her friends on a gear-equipped sports cycle, is now known as India’s fastest woman F4 racer. Interestingly, she divvies up her time now between her two loves: racing and flying.
As a pilot with Indigo Airlines, she flies the Airbus 320 for six days a month. The rest of the days are devoted to her career as a Formula 4 racer. She has participated in over 40 international races, and is sponsored by JK Tyres and Indigo.
In an interview, she revealed that racing was her “first love. But I love flying too. They both deal with heavy speed machines and you’re required to make quick decisions”.
A racer in the making
Sneha was 16 when she realised that racing with her friends and coming first was not just fun, but was her calling. Born in Kolkata and raised in Mumbai, she found a go-karting track in Powai, and zipped through with the fastest lap time in her first attempt.
Keen to follow through on her interest, the Class 11 Science student began to spend her pocket money honing her skills at the racing tracks. She often spent her free time at the Powai track, doing odd mechanic jobs and watching professionals race against each other.
“I once walked up to them and asked them to train me as well. I soon learnt the basic skills that a racing car driver needs to know,” Sneha recalls.
The same year, after performance in city-level races, she was selected by the national racing team. She went on to win the Speed Tournament conducted by Times of India, but soon ran into a huge roadblock: her parents didn’t approve of her passion.
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Like most parents, Sneha’s parents wanted her to focus on academics and build a career; they considered racing dangerous and a threat.
But that did not deter the young girl.
“I would sneak my helmet into my bag. I also carried my books everywhere as I told myself that studies were also a priority along with racing. I would study on the tracks, bus, and anytime possible,” she says.
Sneha went on to ace her exams, and also came out with flying colours at the national-level MRF National Karting Championship.
Racing against time
But getting to this point wasn’t easy.
A Maharashtra State Board student, Sneha had to attend three classes a day; only one was compulsory. However, she always chose to go the extra mile and attended them all, as she felt she “was running out of time”.
A normal day involved a lot of hustle. After attending class, she would catch a local from Borivali station at 3 pm and head for her pilot training. If time permitted, she would then go to the racing track; it would often be open till 9 pm. All this hustle was at the age of 16, and prepared her to get up to speed for a busy life.
In 2007, Sneha had to go to San Francisco for flying classes. It was a tough choice as she was trying to balance her passion and responsibilities (her family had taken a loan for the foreign study).
“I told my friends that I didn’t know whether I would return to the racing track or not. It was then that my instructor told me that these small things shouldn’t come in my way,” Sneha recalls.
Sneha, whose racing had helped hone her reflexes and decision-making skills, excelled and became the first trainee in her batch to fly a plane solo.
After the course, she returned to India, and worked on converting her US flying licence into an Indian one. This finally happened in 2011, and till then Sneha continued to do part-time jobs at racing tracks, as a mechanic, fine-tuning engines, training, keeping accounts, loading and unloading equipment.
“It was exhausting because I had to work on other’s cars till evening. This was all just so I could fund my passion for speed. I couldn’t afford proper gear, and this led to a serious injury once,” she reminisces.
Spreading her wings
In 2010, Sneha raced with selected 20 drivers across the country at the Chennai and Coimbatore racing tracks. She was also the only one to have driven at the Volkswagen Polo Cup and Toyota EMR to cut.
A year later, she applied to two airlines and decided to join Indigo Airlines.
That very year, she emerged as one of the drivers in the top five at the Mercedes Young Star driver programme. She drove her car at the astonishing speed of 270 kmph at the Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida.
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By now, Sneha’s ambitions had grown. She wanted to drive Formula 1, but often ended up only at sponsored racing events.
It was while flying with Indigo and doing sponsored racing events that she was approached by JK Tyres to represent them in the national racing event. Since then, Sneha is sponsored by JK Tyres. Indigo also came on-board after watching her set the tracks on fire.
Sneha, now a brand ambassador for JK Tyres and Indigo, has her 2020 calendar charted out.
There’s plenty to look forward to: British F4, Formula 4 Spanish Championship, Formula 4 South East Asia, F2000 Series Middle East, Formula Renault Asia, and Japanese Formula 4.
Clearly, her hard work has put her career in top gear!
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)
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