Meet professional racer Shana Parmeshwar, woman behind India's longest racetrack
A bit reckless, a bit mad and a whole lot of skill and passion - professional car racing may not be for everyone but it is surely for anyone interested. And what began as a curious dabble into automobiles during her formative years soon turned out to be a fervent passion that has kept Shana Parmeshwar hooked behind the wheels for years. Such has been her bond with cars, speed, and racing that she is now a key part of a team that is building what would be India's longest racetrack, around 350 meters longer than the 5.1-kilometer Buddh International Circuit.
But India? In a country where professional racing is still quite limited and often considered the passion of an elite class of people, Shana is looking at bringing about a change. And that change could well arise from the under-development race track that she feels will not just allow budding racers to hone their skills but also provide much-needed exposure to the image as well as the art of professional motor racing.
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And she ought to know. A supercar enthusiast, Shana tells HT Auto during a chat that she doesn't come from a family that has motorsport people. In fact, she herself has dabbled into several areas - ranging from aviation to import and retail business.
"I get it quite often. Why was fashion designing not good enough? Why was architecture not good enough? Why did I have to come and choose motor racing," she explains as she also sheds light on the gender aspect of motor racing. "You don't have to be a boy or a girl to be into racing. If you have got the skill set and you can handle the pressure, get out there and do it." It is this all-encompassing nature of motor racing that 33-year-old Shana now wants to take to more and more people regardless of artificial barriers that may exist.
Here's an excerpt from the interview with Shana Parmeshwar:
HT Auto: Tell us about the project for what is billed as India's longest race track? What is it all about?
Shana: The project was started at least five to six years ago. There hasn't been much noise about it because we purposely didn't want to. We were also struggling with the direction as to where it was going to go. We weren't sure about many things. Then Covid came out of nowhere and took us by storm. Luckily, by then we had a lot of things in place. We had our design in place and we had to improvise the designs, original designs on the track.
A 3.4-km race track was good but not great. I wasn't kind of too happy with it. Then we thought let's kind of change it up a bit. And if we are going to do it, let's make it proper. So, we decided that let's go with the largest race track in the country. We did a little R&D and scaling seeing different race tracks in the world and I took inspiration from the race tracks on which I have personally driven and I thought the bottom line of all of that was the race track has to have a sense of adrenaline, sense of care, sense of 'Oh! My gosh, are you gonna wet your pants?' That's what a race track had to be. We are going to be located 120 kilometers from Bangalore up north. It will be 40 minutes from the Bangalore International Airport. We will also have helipad services from the Bangalore airport to the actual race track. Ironically, we also have a small airstrip next to the track.
Shana says she has taken her experience of racing cars at circuits around the world, including the Buddh International track, in designing the upcoming track near Bengaluru.
HT Auto: How do you see the future of motorsport in a country like India, especially in the aftermath of F1 coming in and going away?
Shana: This is a hard one to answer. It hasn't been really easy. We are in a country where motorsport was not even recognized as a sport until a couple of years ago. So, when we started this project, we were looking out for potential partners and things got really hard because people can't relate to it. If I said that I want to build a hotel or an apartment, I would have tonnes of people coming to me for that. Something like this, people can't grasp how it is.
For better or worse, the fact that Formula One came to India and left made a kind of a vacant spot in the motorsport. It kind of made a negative impression on most people who think if you take it up as your profession, it is an absolute failure. So, we had to break a lot of mindsets to re-enter this field. Surely, there is a massive risk in it.
HT Auto: But motorsports is also often seen as something meant for the rich and famous. Then there is the affordability factor. Would you agree?
Shana: I 100% agree. And that is exactly what we are trying to change here. We don't want to have it as a sport of rich and famous. The whole point of us doing this entire exercise and introducing this race track is to highlight its main feature - accessibility. Anyone, at any price range or any budget that they have, can come on and have a bit of a play, have fun and get into the sport.
We are going to have a racing school as well at the track. That is going to allow students or children from ages eight or above to do cart racing. We are trying to do this to nurture next-generation drivers coming to this sport. So, I am hoping that people like us and hopefully more would kind of come up and do things. At the moment, as you know, motorsport in India - whether you like it or not - has been quite political.
HT Auto: How much can you bank on your personal experience, skill and passion for the sport when inspiring youngsters?
Shana: I think it all starts by doing something wrong. I got to be honest about it. My motor racing started even before I got a license. I was driving cars and trying to break speed limits. Come on, I will be honest about it and that's true. But eventually, I realized that I had to fine-tune that. And I kind of got into it. Followed my heart a little bit. Took the racing off the road. Thank goodness.
Parts of it was in India, most of it was in Malaysia. I started racing at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia. It was my first time on a professional race track, so I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I just jumped into it. I didn't look back and I am really glad that I didn't look back. I think I would have regretted it massively if I went into something very boring like being a doctor or an architect.
HT Auto: And how do you see the role of gender in motorsports?
Shana: Let's be honest. In today's day and age, who even cares about these anymore? Anyone can come and play as long as you got the heart for it and the mindset. There will be challenges. I mean the fashion industry has tonnes of challenges and for any fashion designer to come up, it is going to be impossible initially. The same goes for racing. You will find roadblocks and if you are strong enough, you will get through. I tell people what's in your pants don’t account, what's in your head is what matters!