Monday, 27 April 2015

Female Rally Drivers after 1950: India

Ashika Menezes, second right, at an autocross meeting

The Indian subcontinent has its own national rally championship, which has attracted several female drivers in recent years. This is in no way an exhaustive list of them, and it will be updated in future, although good information about Indian rallies is quite hard to find.

Rayna Aranha – did two seasons of rallying in India, in 2005 and 2006. Her usual navigator was Radikha Chaliha. Her first event was the Hyderabad Rally in December 2005, in which she was seventh, and first lady. She contested the Rally Star Cup in 2006. The model of car she used is unclear, although it may have been a Maruti. She also participated in autocross, with some success in the womens’ classes, and, in 2005, drag racing. One of the reasons she took on the challenge of rallying was that she wanted to overcome her tendency towards motion sickness.  Previously, she was a model, and she now works in IT.

Garima Avtar - rallied in India during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Her 2014 car was a Volkswagen Polo, in which she scored two 19th places in the Colmbatore and Maharashtra rallies. She drove a Maruti Esteem in 2015 and had a best finish of 22nd overall in the K1000 Rally. As well as stage rallies, she has competed in rally raids, including the Raid de Himalaya. She began her motorsport career in 2011 and was supported by Mahindra in 2013, running in rally raids.   

Nawaz Bhathena (Sandhu) - Indian driver from a family of rallyists. She has competed on the circuits and the special stages, but is mostly a rally driver. She was most active in the Indian rally championship between 1997 and 2001, driving a Maruti (Suzuki) Esteem. She was ninth in the championship in 1998, having scored two fifth places in the Castrol Deccan and Popular rallies. In 2013, she was selected to take part in a Toyoto Etios one-make racing series, alongside her brother. As of 2018, she is India’s representative on the FIA’s Women in Motorsport commission.

Anitha Kholay – driver from Bangalore, active in Indian motorsport since 1995. She started rallying as a co-driver, navigating for her husband, Rupesh, before taking the wheel herself in 2003, in three rounds of the Indian Rally Championship.  She was fourth in the Rally Star class of the Bangalore Rally. After that, she has competed, on and off, in rallying, with a break in 2006 for motherhood, as well as motorcycle enduros and autocross, in a Maruti. In 2010, she was second in a special VW Polo ladies’ race at Chennai. In 2016, she entered the Rally of Malaysia in a Proton Satria. She was eighteenth overall and won her class. Anitha is probably better known as a model and fashion stylist.

Ashika Menezes – rallied a Maruti Esteem in the Indian championship in 2013, with a best finish of fourteenth, in the Coffee Day Rally. In 2014, she co-drove for her erstwhile navigator, Lokesh Gowda. She has been active in motorsport since at least 2012, usually in autocross, where she often wins the Ladies’ class. Her first season in rallying was 2013. In only her second-ever rally, the Coffee Day Rally, she became the first Indian female driver to score a podium finish in twenty years, after her third place in the Junior category, out of fourteen drivers. She was fourteenth overall. In 2014, she also did some circuit racing, in the one-make Toyota Etios Cup. The results are not forthcoming. In 2015, she co-drove for Lokesh Gowda again. In 2016, she continued as a co-driver, in stage rallies as well as off-road events.

Sarika Sehrawat – takes part in both stage and cross-country rallies in India. She began in earnest in 2003, winning the ladies’ class in the Himalaya Desert Rally, driving a Suzuki Maruti. Between then and 2011, she was a regular presence in the Suzuki Desert Rally and the Himlalaya Raid rally, in her Maruti. Usually, she won the ladies’ prize, and she was also a multiple ladies’ autocross champion. In 2012, she added the Mughal Rally and the Summer Sprint Rally to her Coupe des Dames tally. As well as rallying, she took part in the VW Polo Ladies’ circuit racing Cup in 2010 and 2011, finishing second both times. Her last competitive outing seems to have been a women-only rally in Guragon, in 2013. She now works as a TV motorsport commentator.

Farah Vakil – veteran Indian driver who is most famous for her win in the Himalayan Rally in 1990, driving a Maruti Gypsy. This was not her first rally win: she was the first female driver to win India’s Rally d’Endurance in 1989, in another Maruti. Her first rally car, which she put together with her father in 1988, was a Maruti, which she used in the Goodyear Women’s Car Rally, encouraged by her enthusiast father. She was fourth overall. After being India’s leading female driver between 1988 and 1995, she retired for a long time, before making a small comeback in 2015. She drove a Volkswagen Polo in the Rally of Coimbatore, navigated by Ashika Menezes, and was 23rd overall.

Bani Yadav - competes in rallies and rally raids in India, as well as autocross and other disciplines. She started her career quite late, when she was over 40, in 2013. She has used a number of cars in stage rallies. Her best result in a major event is probably her fourth place in the 2015 Coffee Day Rally, driving a Mitsubishi Cedia. In 2016, she entered some of the Indian championship. She was eleventh in the Rally de North, driving a Volkswagen Polo. In rally raids, her usual vehicle is a Maruti Gypsy 4x4. She has won several ladies’ awards in Indian raids since 2014, including the Raid de Himalaya in 2014 and the 2015 Suzuki Desert Storm Rally.  

(Image from

Thanks to Ashika Menezes for her input into this post.

1 comment: