With an incredibly strong automotive passion and love for speed, Shillong girl Phoebe Dale Nongrum is out to conquer the male-dominated sport of racing, as she becomes the first woman from Meghalaya and the Northeastern region to be selected into a Formula LGB 4 team. Thirty-year-old Nongrum has been inducted into the Ahura racing, a professional racing team, recently and she will be racing in different circuits in India. Ahura racing, formed in 2017, is owned by Sarosh Hataria, a successful hand at the Formula LGB 4 circuit. Phoebe had to compete with 60 women to make it to the Formula LGB 4 team. Eleven other girls have also been selected for the team. Taking a break from her hectic schedule, Nongrum was in Shillong recently, when The Hills Times caught up with her. Being the lone woman from Meghalaya and the region to be part of a Formula LGB 4 team, Phoebe said the journey hasn’t been an easy one.
Here the excerpts of the interview…
The Hills Times (HT): When did you fall in love with driving?
Phoebe Dale Nongrum (PDN): When I was young, I used to sit on my dad’s lap while he drove. My dad (the current DIG of the Garo Hills, Onesimuss Pasi) used to take me and my brother on a long drive on Sundays. He encouraged us to hold the steering wheel. As I started growing up, I started developing interest in driving. By age 14, I learnt how to operate a car. That is the time I started driving myself. I used to go to quite places like villages or Polo Ground in Shillong to learn the nuances of driving.
HT: You are now an established name in the field profession driving as far as women are concerned. How and when did you set into it in a professional way?
PDN: I always wanted to get into the racing world. And at the same time, for us, studies were also important. I continued my studies and I worked. I was in Bangalore for 10 years. I was away from Shillong since I was 17. When I got back to Shillong a year ago, that’s when I started. It was only last year that I started participating in autocross and rallies in the state and places like Arunachal Pradesh, Dimapur and Guwahati. Some of our friends organized an autocross — Maximum Attack Challenge 2 organised by Motorsport Association of Meghalaya (MSAM). They told me to join the race. I did not have a car but I borrowed one. I co-drove for one of my friends in national rallies. So far I competed in two rallies and three autocrosses. Then I got into Formula racing two months ago. Ahura racing is a professional racing team formed in 2017, owned and managed by Three-Time National Champion, Sarosh Hataria who has two decades of successful racing experience. He had held a talent hunt for women drivers for the Formula LGB 4. When contacted he asked me to come down. I made it to the team of 12 girls and there will be four seasons of racing this year against the men. The selection was tough, I had to compete with 60 women and I made it to the first round selection of 24, then 12. Very tough fight!
HT: You have turned professional. Tell us about your present and future plan?
PDN: As of now, I am starting to pick up. Rallies, autocross and formulating racing are three different things with three different tracks. I do not want to concentrate only on one. Right now Formula 4 is running and the first session is happening and first round is already over. At present I will concentrate on it besides taking part in autocross if it takes place in North East.
HT: As far NE is concerned there is no infrastructure? How you do you prepare yourself for practise?
PDN: Well to be honest, the Shillong-Guwahati Highway is my practice track. Since it is a four-lane, when I go down to Guwahati, that’s my practice route. I perfected my corners and turns on this road. There were no tracks then so this road is all I got to perfect my skills. I am lucky to be born in Shillong. In racing there are curves and turns. Shillong roads have those curves and turns. That way Shillong-Jowai road is good track to practice driving. Knowing signals are important in driving.
HT: Does this profession need coach?
PDN: For Formula 4 you need coaching to learn certain techniques while driving on the track. But autocross is your skill. And rallies are different thing altogether.
HT: Future prospects of women races?
PDN: I feel women wanted to be in this male-dominated field but they did get the opportunity in the past. Now women are coming forward and there were 60 women in the talent hunt for Formula 4. There are some women who are very good drivers.
HT: Any problem you faced being a female coming to male-dominated sport?
PDN: Nothing as such. So far for me there has been no discrimination. Men give me tough competition in the field through which I learnt a lot.
HT: Future of this sport in North East?
PDN: I co-drove at two National Rallies for Baljit the Arunachal festival of speed and the Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) and took home the win.
HT: Future in North east as women racers are concerned? Is any talent coming up?
PDN: I doubt anybody is coming up. I hope to set an example so that new women talents come forward. They can come to me I will help them out.
HT: Success mantra for younger generation?
PDN: For me, if you love something and have passion for it, even if it takes 10 or twenty years, do not give up.
HT: Your cars and sponsorship?
PDN: For rallies I use a Gypsy of my friend with whom I co drive. For autocross I go through an agent and for Formula 4, Ahura provides it. Formula 4 is a costly affair. It is a rich man’s sport. Somehow I am managing and my dad is literally sponsoring me. Sad part is government in Shillong does not consider it as a sport. It is a dangerous sport and risk is yours. This sport has got its inherent dangers and rallies are more dangerous. Arunachal is very risky. One has to be fit and familiar with the surrounding in this sport. One mistake can spell doom.
HT: You tried your hand in two-wheelers?
PDN: I learnt riding when I was 15. Since then I have been riding.
Brimming with confidence, Phoebe, who fell in love with driving at the age of 12, said she would turn racing into her career. But she knows the journey won’t be easy as the logistical costs are prohibitive.