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We catch up with Diana Pundole, LGB Formula 4 racer for the all-women Ahura Racing team and the only one from Pune to make the cut.

    Diana Pundole


First of all, how did it all start? Take us through your path to racing.

My interest in cars has always been greater, although only marginally, than bikes. As a child I remember my brother and I would eagerly wait for our turn to sit on our parents’ lap when either of them took us out on drives and we would excitedly hold the wheel under their constant supervision driving up and down the residential lane. As any other regular college-going student does, I too learned to ride my first bike at the age of 15 and still remember my earliest memories of enjoying the very experience of the thrill riding. It was clear that I was always slightly more inclined towards speed than my peers. With my mother’s guidance and support, I was already driving, a year after which I got my legal driving licence.

Thereafter, there was no looking back. The love for driving encapsulated me and I cherished every opportunity that I got to drive. At a point it was an amazing story at home to tell mom’s friends how we had driven intercity with me at the wheel. Some expressed concern, others amazement. My catalyst was that she was proud of me and I was doing what I loved the most.

I had never stopped driving. My everyday life, everywhere I travelled I drove by myself and, like any other motor enthusiast, I knew my interest and passion for driving and speeding up was going to fall into perspective.

It was when my brother pointed out a certain nationwide talent hunt held exclusively for women for the selection of an all-women motor racing team named “Ahura Racing”, owned by Sarosh Hataria, which was to make its début in the 21st JK Tyre FMSCI National Racing Championship. Nobody knows you better than a sibling you’ve grown up with and even though my brother and I grew up quarrelling about who got to drive the family car or who was the better driver, I suppose he knew deep down inside that I was pretty good at it and this chance was about nurturing my competitive nature in a progressive manner. This particular talent hunt was a green signal.

What are your most memorable moments from your races? Any ones that stand out that you remember like they were yesterday?

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 on Sundays for anything and so we found ourselves growing up with it and following it very keenly as well. Naturally, it’s been a big part of my life and I was nothing but thoroughly ecstatic when I made it into the all-women’s Ahura Racing team headed by my mentor, Sarosh Hataria. I have participated in Round 2 and Round 3 of the LGB Formula 4 Category at the Kari Motor Speedway in Coimbatore and the much-awaited Round 4 at Noida’s Buddh International Circuit. Round 2 of the 21st JK Tyre National Racing Championship was my first official race in which I learned a great deal about racing rules and regulations.

Diana Pundole

In Round 3, I felt even more fearless and self-assured of competing with my fellow male counterparts because I was obsessed with making a difference, breaking my own records first and with that concentration I managed to overtake a couple of them too. It brings about a sense of reassurance that gender should definitely not be an issue when it comes to this sport and for me, it isn’t. Yes, men are physically stronger than women but motor racing is one of the few sports where this advantage is negated by the abilities of a person on an individual level. I can see that I’m getting better with every race and in the aforementioned Round 3, I finished in 15th position and came in second from our team of girls.

Even though that is a long way off from number one, I have this burning urge to prove myself, combined with a sense of supreme confidence in the immense scope for improvement in my driving and I will get there in the very near future!

Round 4 of the Championship was the first time I had the opportunity of racing at the BIC and I went out there and gave it my best. It was a great experience.

I’ve also taken part in the IndiKarting Clash of Go-karts wherein I started from pole position with a gap of over one second to P2. I’m proud of that moment in particular because one of my attempts was compromised when a competitor crashed into me. I knew I had to do better and had no intention of giving up even after the bruise I suffered during the crash and dug deep to give it my all to claim pole. In the race, however, due to a racing incident, I finished on the second step of the podium.

I had been to the Formula 1 race at the Buddh International Circuit in 2011 and was mesmerized. It made an impact on the way I perceived Formula 1 in more ways than one. The excitement, I feel, cannot be put down in words. The next race I went for was the Singapore Grand Prix in 2016. Given an option I would choose to drive at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, owning to its magnificent natural setting.

There’s an astronomical lot more that I am grateful for, many important people who have helped me get where I am; for giving me direction, for investing so much time in me and pushing me constantly to bring out my best. My mentors have been the biggest catalyst in triggering this storm within me to prove myself worthy of all the effort put into our individual progress and development as racers. I applaud JK Tyre and their tremendous support, guidance and generosity, the FMSCI and their philanthropic vision for introducing women in motor sport in India in such a big way. My driving force has been from within myself. There is no amount of motivation that you can receive from anyone comparable to that which you are born with.

Who or what were your biggest inspirations? What keeps you going?

I tied the knot at 21 while I was still studying. At the age of 23, I had my first-born four months before my final master’s degree examination. My second blessing came in at 25. My belief is that there needs to be an even distribution of modernity and traditionalism if one desires to fit in multiple activities and enrich his or her life with experiences by capitalizing on every passing opportunity. As for me, I made a conscious decision to forgo building a career and instead give my best years to the upbringing of my children. On the other hand, I knew that I would never let age get in the way of living life to the fullest or let it influence my goals. I’d like to believe that I am a living example of the saying, “it’s never too late to chase your dreams”.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having an excellent support system in the form of a loving and hands-on family. The biggest support of which comes from my mother, who has always encouraged me in pursuing all of my numerous passions. Yes, that’s right, a person can and should be passionate about more things than one.

I am passionate about painting, gardening, cooking, I sing in a choir named “Bel Canto”, study music, and learned to play the piano.

Another incident where I acted on impulse and followed my heart was when I went to Paris, one of the most beautiful cities, and instead of visiting the tourist-y places or indulging in shopping, I went ahead and booked myself a Lamborghini Huracán on the first day and a Ferrari Portofino on the next!

On my to-do list next is the Silverstone Circuit in Britain. I have registered for the track sessions — which will give me an opportunity to up my game behind the wheel of a BMW M2!

Diana Pundole

How different is driving a normal road car from your race car?

A race car is built to be driven hard for a short period of time while a road car is built to endure a lot more and survive for a lot longer while doing the same job over and over again. It’s also more comfortable and has less of a performance edge. The LGB Formula 4 car uses a 1.3-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine found in the first Maruti Suzuki Swift. However, unlike the Swift, the race car weighs just 450 kg minus driver, which, when you consider the added output taking the total up to around 90 PS, has a very positive effect on the power-to-weight ratio. Also, the driving position is much, much lower to bring down the centre of gravity, so it dives into corners more eagerly and feels very nimble. Getting on the brakes is never a good idea (laughs) but it is much sharper and quicker compared to a normal road car because in a race, you don’t want to be on the brakes. It’s just for a split second and you want be on the throttle again as quickly as you’ve lifted off.

Diana Pundole

What advice would you give to the aspiring racers out there? What helped you break through the stereotyping?

Motor sport 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 more easy 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 drawn to motor sport start enrolling themselves into training programmes without much ado. There are a number of training programmes conducted by Ahura Racing exclusively for women that one can benefit from.

Your first step to making a career in motor sport is to go karting or take advantage of one of these two- or three-day programmes so you know where you stand. This is an interesting time in motor sport history when women are being encouraged and supported in terms of guidance and training and this should be enough reason to trigger your passion for motor sport and prepare yourself for the national stage and then the world stage. Women have taken over in a big way and have proved their success more often than not. So, my advice to all the young aspiring girls wanting to take this profession seriously is to get out there and give yourself the chance of a lifetime, because, who knows, you may be the next Susie Wolff!

How do you balance work and play? What goes on in a day in the life of Diana?

Questions do arise on how I find time to do all of this in a busy day to day schedule with kids and school, but I ask you, ‘How can I not? Who is to stop me from doing everything that makes me happy?’ Nobody can break your spirit unless you do it yourself and this is exactly how I do it! Prioritize your time, make sure you’re doing what you absolutely love, surround yourself with people who believe in what you believe in and never, for a minute, give up on your goals. There is no other way but to have a burning desire within yourself and that will be your guiding light. Trust it, go after it and you’ll see that it works wonders while everything else falls into place automatically.

Diana Pundole

JK Tyre’s Racing is a seasonal sport that begins in the month of August and ends in November and has been so since the last two decades. Apart from training on the track, an important dimension is the off-track training and fitness regime that every driver must adhere to. Overall physical and mental fitness and focusing on sharp reflexes is what anyone who aspires to become a racer must concentrate on. This angle of training can be done in your home town and a few hours dedicated to it every day is good enough. On race weekends in Coimbatore, we, as drivers, are supposed to be there for about a week.

I had applied for being a teacher in a couple of schools which I had to politely turn down after I made a choice to race and also continue to work at our family-owned company, C T Pundole & Sons, in Pune. I also enjoy conducting experience drives with Mercedes-Benz and their customers and enthusiasts on some weekends when I’m free. This shows what the cars are capable of and it’s great fun pushing them to their limits. Not many women can pursue their passions after marriage. I understand how it can be difficult. One aspect with respect to why they cannot or will not do it is usually never financial but more psychological: the barriers they create for themselves about how and what people will say about it. It’s something that I strongly urge them not to pay heed to. Do not count down your days and instead start making each day count. I broke such untold rules. Everyone reaches a stage when they start being true to themselves without worrying about the probability of someone else’s disagreement on the matter. The sooner this realization surfaces, the better it is for you and those around you.

Interviewed by: Jim Gorde

 

About the author: Jim Gorde

 

Automotive Correspondent at Bike India and Car India.
Believes that learning never stops. Loves V8 engines as much as a good breakfast.
t: @BikeIndia / @CarIndia

 

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