Shriya Lohia, an 11-year-old Go Karting racer from Pune, was the winner of JK Tyre National Karting Championship last year. Participants in the X-30 Cadet Class stood shocked as she muscled her way into a majorly male-dominated arena. The Class VI student clocked 11 min 13.233 seconds to win the game. This race is for drivers between the ages 8 and 12 years.
Shriya, originally hailing from Himachal, looks up to her father Ritesh Lohia who is a sport enthusiast. She belongs to a multi-talented family, her sister is a shooter and her mom is an entrepreneur. Lohia started Karting in Vadodara on a track run by a well-known name in motorsport Mira Erda. She also visited Bengaluru and Hyderabad in search of better tracks and now she trains at Meco Motorsports, near Bengaluru. The youngster also won the FMSCI award in the Outstanding Women in Motorsports category in 2018. Shriya speaks to SheThePeople.TV, some edited snippets from the interview.
Shriya, was Go Karting always on your to-do list? Can you describe your childhood and what inspired you to take up racing?
As a kid, I used to play with toy cars. I had never imagined I would end up becoming a racer until at the age of nine, when I tried go-karting for the first time. That day, I realised this was the thing I was waiting for. So, I joined a racing school in Bangalore.
I was quite a shy kid when I was younger. Racing has helped me socialize more. I am working hard to achieve my goal.
Every month you have to go to Bangalore and other places to practice, isn’t it hectic sometimes balancing both studies and this sport?
I am good at studies, but this sport is my life and I aspire to be a Formula One driver.
How was your initial experience in karting? How has your coach helped you perform well overall?
It was great. It’s different than other sports and that's what makes it unique. Akbar Ebrahim, my super coach was an amazing formula racer in his time. He always wants me to win, he sets the kart to have the best result, helps me improve on my weak points. Sohil Shah, a formula racer also coached me for X-30 alongside Yash Aradhya who is a Bal Puruskar awardee. All my coaches helped me improve.
Your career is now set to a certain path, yet you have a long way to go in learning and experiencing other type of motorsports. How was your equation with the other racers?
All racers at the track are down-to-earth. They always help each other, point out each other's mistakes. I am lucky to be learning from them.
You are just 11 and doing extraordinary on the tracks? You are currently the only Indian Girl to compete in National Rotax Championship India. Any thoughts?
Race is not about age. It’s just a passion which attracted me towards it.
In India, it’s a general idea that racing is about screeching tyres and possible smashes. What are your thoughts on industrial legends in and outside India? How can Indian racers be inspired by them?
Indian racers like Mira Erda, Sneha Sharma, Arjun Maini, Kush Maini, Diana Pundole are doing spectacularly well in formula racing and are some of my biggest inspirations. One of my biggest inspirations is Narain Karthikeyan who is the only Indian to have reached F1.
My current favourite F1 racer is Scuderia Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc.
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How is the karting scene in India for women? Why isn’t it a popular sport among women in your state?
Many women I've met say that they're scared of speed.
How have you modified your game for better results?
I'm learning from my mistakes and improving.
How do you deal with growing expectations?
When I perform well people expect more from me and I don't stop. I prove to them that I am better than what they expected.
What are you preparing for next?
The championship title, I want to be No.1
How is your family taking all the spotlight given to you now? Are they supportive of your career choices?
I'm not the only person in my family with fame. My sister is an ace shooter, my dad is an adventure freak, my mom is an entrepreneur. My family is my backbone.
They are extremely supportive. During races my sister sends me messages, encouraging me to do the best I can. My dad is the one who travels with me, he is very supportive whether I lose or win. He tells me what to do and how to improve. My grandparents always call me to give their blessings.
How do you balance life?
Due to the championships, I usually end up missing school and then I have a lot of work to complete and because of my racing timetable I am unable to attend exams. My teachers always help to cover up work.
What are your biggest challenges you are facing now?
One of the biggest challenges is to get sponsorship. Sponsorships are very important in racing as it is an expensive sport.
How can Indian authorities improve facilities/infrastructure in order to appreciate the culture of sports here?
Indian sports are usually promoted by the sports ministry, the same should be done for racing. Racing should be advertised more and should be considered as one of India's best sport. They should support us financially as well.
Do you face gender discrimination in the industry?
Most people think that girls aren't capable of winning in this sport. Most of the times, guys also have an attitude that they can beat the girls. In my case, I beat the guys and people do get shocked because a girl has beaten a guy in a male-dominated sport.
Some promote girls for being 'girl racers', not for their hardwork. I feel this is unfair and I don't live under the title of 'woman racer'. I just consider myself a racer like everyone else.
Mental health is as important as physical health and one needs to look at both with regards to being fit. What can athletes do on a regular basis to develop and maintain it?
Being fit is extremely necessary in racing as you might get drained out after just 20 laps. Of course, to keep ourselves fit, we have to workout, go to the gym daily, maintain a proper diet and do Yoga. Every effort we put in takes us one step higher.