She’s fierce; She’s unstoppable, She’s like thunder behind the wheel! This weekend at TECH ‘N WHEELZ we are glad of interviewing a rally racer – Ashika Menezes from Bangalore. A techie by profession, Ashika has been racing now for several years and has a laundry list of accolades to her name. This young lady has been participating in local autocross races and now is part of the Indian National Rally Championships.
Q) How long have you been driving?
A) Well let’s see. Learnt how to drive when I was 17 so 10 years now.
And racing – It all started with my endless checklist ‘Cars I have driven’ and if a friend is going to give me the keys of his race car, I’d be a fool to refuse. At 23, I participated in local Autocross races and now part of the Indian National Rally Championships. In 2013 I moved to Rallying and in 2014 to circuit racing where I was part of Mercedes Benz Young Star Driver Program and Toyota Etios Motor Racing Championship. This year I am more into cross-country rallies as a navigator though. It certainly has been a rollercoaster ride I love the most.
Q) The vehicle you started riding/ driving?
A) I started to take driving lessons from my neighbour in a Hyundai Santro. A year later I learnt how to ride a bike and that was my cousin Bennie’s Hero Honda Glamour.
Q) Describe on how you got to where you are with your passion of driving today.
A) The addiction has changed me from simply being one who knows how to drive to being a rally car driver understanding the dynamics under the hood. Rather than just learning to change gears, pushing the pedal to knowing what happens in the heart of the engine when I do that. That’s a long way I must say from where I started.
And the knowledge of all this certainly helps me when I am on a race track which does make up for the lack of racing experience or practice in comparison to a professional race car driver.
Q) What about repairing your drive? Do you maintain and repair vehicles on your own?
A) First thing I learnt was to change a bad tyre as my mother had already planned for a drive to her native town of Mangalore even before I had my driver’s license in hand. That’s my first ‘long drive’.
Since I had lost my father at a young age, any maintenance activity from the so-called “free” services to upgradations had to be handled by me. And when a teenage girl walks into a garage she is sure to be looted. So even before I got into motorsports I had already learned the basics of car repairs – oil change, battery checking, looking for bad fuses or faulty/broken wiring etc. I can’t fix the car completely all by myself but can certainly tell what is exactly going wrong.
Q) Are you associated with any car club/ motorcycle club?
A) Yes, my bff Lokesh Gowda and I have our own racing team based out of Bangalore and we are called ‘Team OCTANE’. We participate in most of the races around the city and the INRC rallies held in Karnataka are never missed.
I ride bikes simply because I love to and that’s limited to riding around the town but have never been part of bikers club.
Q) Tell us something more about Team OCTANE..
A) Lokesh Gowda, who has won the 2w INRC Championships in 2003-2004 after having met with an accident in Coffee Day Rally could no longer continue rallying on bike. However passions don’t die and so he got into 4w autocross and rallying in 2011. Loki was also the one who introduced me to the world of motorsports and I am who I am because of him. A year into 4w racing Loki and I started our very own team –Team Octane.
Q) Do you have any achievement that you take pride in? (Winner, participant in any riding events, any special awards, records in your name as such)
A) In this exciting but male-dominated world of rallying, it was a proud moment to be the first Indian Woman Racer to take the podium after 2 decades at the Coffee Day Rally 2013 competing against 14 professional racers (12 men + 2 women).
Also, in this year’s Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm rally my teammate N Smitha (driver) and I (navigator) were the only women team to make it to the podium (2nd place) under the ATV category with teams of men taking up other podium spots.
Going back to the autocross races, one of the proudest moment is certainly winning the Championship title at the 2012 Indian National Autocross Championships and being one of the overall fastest driver in the autocross race held at Hubli-Dharwad by Autotrack VASA Motorsports in 2013.
I don’t want to sound narcissist but I am also personally proud of all podium finishes in 70 events as yet through my career.
Q) Do you have any motoring heroes?
A) I respect them all, because if they weren’t good we wouldn’t have known them at all. I believe each one deserves a spot in the ‘Hero’ category and there’s lot to learn from all of them.
Q) How are women riders/drivers treated by most people and by male motorists ?
A) Oh! Talk about it L
We are taken for granted on the road to budge. Any bad or wrong situation on the road and the world concludes that it is the WOMAN’s fault.
Women fear to drive/ride on the road and the situation has only worsened for us over the years due to this public attitude.
I am not going to debate on what percentage of women drive bad because if you (men) ain’t gonna help, it’s never getting better. On the other hand we totally over look men who don’t drive well and who drive rashly, right?
How can I explain this traditional impact….women didn’t usual drive and so they are still learning, as with men they hadn’t been always cooking but they are learning too J
One thing I do not like is being challenged with the question from most men, “Can women really drive?” I say nothing and let them watch instead.
Q) Parents/ Friends- How do they feel of you participating in Motorsport events ? Any special comments?
A) It runs in the blood’ is what my mother says. She and my whole family including siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins are really excited and totally supportive and that pumps me up with adrenaline each time.
And I am going to quote my friend Kashyap Achar on how he feels:
“Knowing someone who is an achiever is a great thing in itself, but to be friends with a woman who has achieved and continues to do so in a predominantly male dominated field over the world, is indeed a proud feeling! It is not just I who take pride in being friends with Ashika, but it is a chain. ‘I know someone, who knows someone who is a winner’ is always good to hear. I watch and support all the achievements of hers in my own small way and take pride and joy in them! We go to watch her races whenever possible and enjoy her enthusiasm on and off the tracks.”
Q) The cars/ motorcycles you dream to see parked in your garage?
A) My garage needs to be extended in this case (ha ha ha). There’s always a new car being launched and my list changes according to this – as a greedy human.
Q) Message to female drivers / riders?
A) Let go of that fear, believe in yourself and put in a little extra effort in understanding how one should drive. Trust me, you can be a ‘Good Driver’ then!
And for those women you haven’t learnt how to drive yet I’d rather pass a message to the one who would teach – be supportive and teach them also to be confident behind the wheel.
Unedited interview and as told to team TECH ‘N WHEELZ
image credits to respective owners