Rallying is often considered a male-dominated sport, but a few brave women such as Rayna Aranha and Radhika Chalia are making a foray into it to bust stereotypes

Girl babies should play with cars and boys with dolls RAYNA ARANHA Let's dispel this false notion once and for all. The ladies participating in the Rally Star Cup in the Indian National Rally Championship are not in it just to add colour and glamour to the event. They are not in it to make a statement for gender equality; they participate because they love to drive and are as much turned on by the speed and thrills as the guys in the event. Newest entrants Rayna Aranha and co-driver Radhika Chalia have taken part in just two motor rallies till now. Starting off in December 2005 at the Hyderabad leg of the Indian National Rally championship, the duo skipped Pune this year and last month did the Chikmagalur circuit. They now hope to do all the events on the calendar with the Bangalore K-1000 in August, Chandigarh in October, Goa in November and Hyderabad in December. Rayna had done a little bit of motor racing in the Autocross events earlier. Before the Hyderabad event, Rayna with a little bit of encouragement from a close friend (TT, a DJ aka Remix Raja) decided to borrow a car and check out the event. Radhika who is also a bit of a daredevil was enthusiastic about driving in the competition, so the pair got ready for the rally.

The first steps

"Our first objective was to drive comfortably, have a good time and complete the event," Rayna says. The drive was very encouraging and with a certain amount of care they finished the rally. Rayna and Radhika went on to win the Ladies Class Section beating Anitha Kholay and her co-driver, the only other ladies in the competition. Recently at Chikmagalur, Rayna - now with her own car but hardly any practice after it was prepared for the event - was thrilled that she had faster timings than some of the male drivers in the Super Special Stages. Rayna and Radhika finished seventh out of 15 teams overall in the Rally Star Cup and once again won the Ladies Class title. The next target is a podium finish in the Rally Star Cup. Recounting her experiences at Chikmagalur, Rayna says: "It was really a tough drive. It had rained a lot and the mud tracks in the special stages in the farm sector were soggy and riddled with deep tracks from the earlier competitors. The windshield had mud splashes and the wipers were spreading the dirt, so visibility was poor. We kept trying to avoid the deep tracks caused by the others but were fighting a losing battle and kept getting back into the tracks. The scary part was making sure you didn't get stuck. We had a couple of small bangs along the way, but thankfully we pulled through and completed the event."Rayna also recalls the cars that had packed up earlier. "We saw Gaurav Gill and Farook's car that had crashed out but did not notice whose car it was at that time. Mazadyar Vatcha who was fancied to win in our class too had a breakdown. At times like that when one is faced with the harsh realities it's nice to have a co-driver like Radhika who peps you with, 'Go! Go! Go!' She keeps egging you on and erases fatigue with words of encouragement."Rayna learnt to drive sitting in her father's lap at the age of 13. Her uncle Naveen Aranha was a rally driver and used to participate in the olden days when the Fiats and Ambassadors were the cars used. She grew up surrounded with male cousins and was labelled a tomboy. The only way to get more women to drive in rallies, she says, is to make sure that kids interchange their toys. "Girl babies should play with cars and boys with dolls," Rayna laughs. She also hopes that sponsors like L'Oreal and Lakme put up money for women drivers as the sport is very expensive. She is partly sponsored by Gati for 2006 and gets tyres from MRF. But she says women drivers, in general, have a strength disadvantage with no power steering. "My arms ache after driving all those kilometres." And it's not so easy to find a loo while racing. Worse, the racing overalls are worn through the day, so don't you even think lady drivers are having a lark participating in a male-dominated sport!D. RAVI SHANKAR

More In: METRO PLUS | FEATURES