Sneha Sharma, 29, divvies up her time now between her two loves: racing and flying. As a pilot with Indigo Airlines, she flies the Airbus 320 for six days a month. The rest of the days are devoted to her career as a Formula 4 racer.
“They both deal with heavy speed machines and you’re required to make quick decisions,” she elaborates on her passion.
Born in Kolkata and raised in Mumbai, Sneha is India’s fastest woman F4 racer today and has participated in over 40 international races.
But life was not an easy ride for Sneha, who had to battle her family and societal stereotypes to build a career out of her passion.
Having got a taste of racing at the age of 16, Sneha went on to get her flying and racing licences before she was licensed to drive. When she was in Class 11, Sneha spent her pocket money honing her skills at the racing tracks and watching professionals race against each other, while also doing odd mechanic jobs.
“I once walked up to the professionals while they were practising, and asked them to train me as well. I soon learnt the basic skills that a racing car driver needs to know,” Sneha recalls. The same year, after performance in city-level races, she was selected by the national racing team.
But her parents didn’t approve of her passion, and wanted her to focus on academics.
Winners Do Not Quit
Although her parents considered racing dangerous, Sneha was not deterred. After school, she would go for her pilot training and if time permitted, she would go to the racing track afterwards.
“I would sneak my helmet into my bag. I also carried my books everywhere as I told myself that studies were also a priority along with racing. I would study on the tracks, bus, and anytime possible,” she says.
Sneha went on to ace her exams, and also came out with flying colours at the national-level MRF National Karting Championship.
The American Dream
In 2007, at the age of 17, Sneha went to San Francisco for flying classes, which her family funded with a bank loan. Although she was not sure if she can return to the racing track, her instructed motivated her to persevere – which she did. With her reflexes honed by racing experience, Sneha became the first trainee in her batch to fly a plane solo.
After the course, she returned to India, and worked on converting her US flying licence into an Indian one – a long process which found fruition only in 2011. Meanwhile, Sneha continued to do part-time jobs at racing tracks, as a mechanic, fine-tuning engines, training, keeping accounts, loading and unloading equipment.
In 2010, Sneha raced with selected 20 drivers across the country at the Chennai and Coimbatore racing tracks. She was also the only one to have driven at the Volkswagen Polo Cup and Toyota EMR to cut. A year later, she applied to two airlines and decided to join Indigo Airlines.
That very year, she emerged as one of the drivers in the top five at the Mercedes Young Star driver programme. She drove her car at the astonishing speed of 270 kmph at the Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida. Renowned Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher gave her a signed model car after this race.
Although Sneha had wanted to drive Formula 1, she often ended up only at sponsored racing events. It was while flying with Indigo and doing sponsored racing events that she was approached by JK Tyres to represent them in the national racing event. Since then, Sneha is sponsored by JK Tyres. Indigo also came on-board after watching her set the tracks on fire.
Sneha has plenty to look forward to: British F4, Formula 4 Spanish Championship, Formula 4 South East Asia, and Japanese Formula 4, among them. Sneha has just started to soar.