Over the last decade, motorsports have gained popularity in India, specifically in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, with the city being known as the Motorsports capital of the country. Thrill, speed, focus and adrenaline — these are all aspects that drive the sport. Shivani Pruthvi (23) and Deepti Pruthvi (51), a mother-daughter duo from Devangere in Karnataka, have been chasing this very high. The two have forayed into this predominantly male-dominated arena, and won several races.
Shivani is part of India’s First All-Women Racing Team, and a graduate of MBBS from SDM College of Medical Sciences. Her mother, Deepthi is a practising doctor and a professor at the SS Institute of Medical Science & Research Centre. She is also Shivani’s co-driver and navigator for rally races.
In a conversation with The Better India, the duo explains how and why they got into motorsports.
All work and no play
Shivani says she has been fond of sports since she was a child. At the age of 5, she learnt roller skating and went on to participate and win medals in state-level competitions. As she grew older, she learnt badminton, tennis, and was even part of the girl’s basketball team in high school. “I always enjoyed participating in extracurricular activities more than I did studies. It was a habit I imbibed from my father — BS Pruthvi, who was a rally racer in Bengaluru during the 90s,” says Shivani.
In 2018, during her second year of MBBS, Shivani was preparing for her semester exams. As there was a large amount of syllabus to be covered, she found herself devoid of time for any extracurricular activities. Instead, she dedicated three whole months before the exams to her education. However, she did not enjoy any part of the process.
“Those were stressful months. The day I finished my last exam for that semester, I went to my father and asked him if he would teach me how to race,” says Shivani, adding that her father started training her the same day.
Deepthi and Pruthvi agreed that Shivani needed to pursue a sport because she was involved in physical activities from a young age.
Born a racer
To see how Shivani would navigate through curves and uneven terrain at a high speed, Pruthvi took her to his cement-pipe making factory. In the open space surrounding the factory, he asked Shivani to drive his custom-made rally car. He even placed a few bikes in her route, but Shivani dodged and zoomed through them like a professional racer. This, Shivani says, was not the first time she had driven a race car. She says she was in Class IV when she first tried driving a car on a race track.
“Once I stepped out of the car, my father said, ‘If you drive the same way at a competition, you will walk out with the trophy’,” says Shivani, adding that his words gave her the confidence to enter competitions.
However, to compete as a rally racer, Shivani needed a co-driver who would give her instructions as she zoomed around the track. Trained navigators refused to help Shivani, for she was a rookie.
This is where her mother stepped in. Having spent several years in the 90s as a bystander cheering her husband during races, Deepthi understood the role of being a navigator. “One morning, my husband and I were on our morning walk, when he put forth the idea. I had full confidence in my daughter’s driving, so I volunteered to be her navigator. I trained one hour every day for a month,” says Deepthi.
Pruthvi, who trained her, says she was made to sit in an unventilated room wearing a seven-layer protective gear and a helmet.
“It was hard and stressful, but that has been my life as a doctor too. So I could manage it. Medicine has taught me how valuable time is and how every second is crucial. The same goes for racing, one small mistake from the navigator could lead to a crash,” says Deepthi.
In 2018, when Shivani was 19 years old, she participated in her first competition, the Autocross, held at Kochi. She placed second in the ladies category. Furthermore, the same year, Shivani joined India’s All-Women Racing Team, Ahura Racing, and won the pole position in Volkswagen India’s Ameo Cup.
Balancing her education and racing
As Shivani started participating in more races, a few of her close relatives raised their concerns. They were worried that she would be distracted from her education. One of her aunts told her how, without a proper education, Shivani’s future would be “hopeless”.
Deepthi says, “I remember watching my daughter get frustrated with her studies when she had no extracurricular activities. However, after she started racing, her performance in exams improved tremendously. I wish for her to continue sports because it is most beneficial for her.”
Despite motorsports being male-dominated, Shivani says she never faced any gender-based discrimination. Her fellow racers were supportive, and encouraged her during her races.
Shivani has now completed her MBBS degree and is preparing for her postgraduate studies. She practises driving over the weekends, during holidays, and a few days before a race.
Her next race is scheduled in a few weeks. Shivani says it is a cross-country race spanning over five days between Bengaluru and Chitradurga.