Mira Erda sounds both excited and nervous. Excited because she is one of two qualifiers from India to participate in the trials of the inaugural W Series, and nervous because she knows the importance of finishing in the top 18 in the qualifiers.

The W Series, supported by former Formula One driver David Coulthard, is an all-female motor-racing series set to start next year. Fifty-five drivers have been selected from 30 countries to participate in a four-day evaluation process in Melk, Austria, in January, which includes both on-track and off-track exercises, such as fitness tests, psychometric tests, and driving skill tests. Eighteen drivers will be shortlisted for the debut season of the W Series that kicks off in May.

“It is an opportunity to race with the best women racers across the world. There is lot we can learn. So I am looking forward for that," Erda, 18, says over the phone from Vadodara. “But it gets more difficult from here onwards."

Erda, who became the first woman racer to participate in the flagship Euro JK category of the JK Tyre National Racing Championship in 2017, will be accompanied by Sneha Sharma, 28, an A-320 pilot with Indigo who has been a regular in the Formula LGB category (the entry-level category that offers upcoming drivers their first experience of open-wheel racing), at the Melk trials.

“Ever since I got a call about the participation, I have been putting in extra effort preparing for it," says Erda. “I need a lot more technical information and driving practice in different conditions. One of the hardest things to do in motor racing is to adapt to different weather and track conditions across the world and the technical knowledge becomes much important. I am preparing for that."

She has also been hitting the gym more regularly for weight training and working on her strength and stamina. She also needs to put on a few more pounds to sustain the rigours of motor racing.

“I am right now at 57kg and I am planning to hit the 59-60kg mark before the trials. I also am spending a lot more time in the gym—about 3 hours every day—to work on my strength and stamina, so that I don’t fall back on the physical aspect of the race," she says.

Mira Erda. Photo courtesy: Red Bull
Mira Erda. Photo courtesy: Red Bull

Motorsport, especially F1, is a male bastion. In 1992, Giovanna Amati of Italy became the fifth and last woman F1 driver. She did not, however, participate in the final races after failing in the three-race qualifying round. The W Series, therefore, is seen as a platform to give women the experience and qualifications for a possible stint at the highest level of the sport. Drivers will not have to pay to race and at least 18 women will compete for a share of the $1.5 million (around 10.5 crore) prize fund.

The W Series, therefore, tackles the two biggest problems that Indian motorsport racers face: its lack of acknowledgement as a sport, and the lack of funding. India has had just two F1 drivers till date—Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok. An association with Red Bull earlier this year has helped reduce the financial burden, but a lot more is needed, says Erda. As things stand, her progress in the sport depends completely on the budget (it costs 3-4 lakh a month). So the teenager, who is studying journalism, is equally focused on her studies.

But for now, all her energies are focused on the qualifiers in Austria. “My braking is much better now and my driving has improved a lot in the last year. The W Series has given a clear path for women motor racers to pursue. The first target is to make the top 18 at Melk," she says.

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