In 2016, when motorcyclist Aishwarya Pissay competed in the prestigious Raid de Himalaya race, her brakes stopped working and her gear got stuck on second. With her stamina put to the test, she dropped out of the competition, only to make an impressive comeback in 2017. Last year, she finished at fourth place — the only woman from her category to complete the race.
The 22-year-old is no stranger to difficult terrain, both on and off the track. She has spoken candidly about how she took up motorcycling at 18, after a disappointing performance in her 12th grade exams, and about how she endured challenging family situations when she did so. In 2017 alone, the cross-country and enduro rallyist cinched three national championship titles (bringing the total count to four), and also aced the Dakshin Dare, one of India’s biggest motoring races. The same year, she was picked up by TVS Racing (the racing arm of TVS Motor Company) and now she is literally on the ride of her life, averaging about 20 races a year.
Pissay is currently gearing up for her next, the Baja Aragón, which will take place this week in north-eastern Spain. She will be racing through the Desierto de los Monegros, the first Indian woman to participate in the two-day rally that was first held in 1983. Her voice is tinged with pride as we speak.
Covering new ground
“I’m representing the country as well as TVS in this 700 km race that I’ve been training for every day. European racing standards are definitely different, and I’m working to make sure I can keep up and bridge the gap,” she says. Pissay will be riding her dream bike, the TVS Sherco 450, whose extremely fast speed, she claims, leaves no room for error. “It’s the adrenaline that keeps me going,” she adds.
She first felt the rush while watching MotoGP, the motorcycling Grand Prix, on television when she was in school. After the setback of her final year exams, she decided to take up the sport. “I was already going on a lot of weekend trips near Bengaluru on my two-wheeler. I ended up covering 50,000 km in three months, and that’s when my friend pushed me to join Apex Racing Academy,” says the young rider. Her journey began with a trip to Nandi Hills, after which she participated in the second season of MTV’sChase the Monsoon, the reality TV competition that featured a 24-day ride from Gujarat to Meghalaya.
In anticipation of the gruelling terrain she is sure to encounter in Spain, Pissay trains for about four hours every weekday at the Invictus Performance lab in her hometown of Bengaluru, sticking to a protein and carbohydrate-heavy diet that is free of sugar. She does not have any cheat days, she confides. “But now with sugar-free ice cream, I don’t think I miss much,” she laughs.
Disciplined practice and dogged determination cannot prevent curveballs, but they certainly help the athlete stay focussed. Last year, just days before she was scheduled to participate in a National Road Racing championship race, Pissay was knocked over by a speeding cab on her way to the gym. She cracked her collarbone in three places. “They put a plate and seven screws. At the time, I wasn’t sure I’d be allowed to race, but the only thing on my mind was I had to. So I did,” she says. She ended up finishing first, but is more careful now, avoiding riding practices on consecutive days.
Mind over matter
Before she starts her physical training each day, Pissay meditates. She also works on puzzles, which she believes help with her navigation during races. Just before a rally, she concentrates on collecting information about the terrain and her competition, and then rides the route in her mind. “Music is also my best friend during this time. I like listening to something upbeat, something that keeps my rhythm going,” she says. ‘
Eye of the Tiger’
by Survivor is at the top of her list.
When she has time for leisure, she explores new bike trails around Bengaluru with Nelly and Santosh, her trainers at the Big Rock Motopark.
While many riders tend to favour either circuit races or off-roading raids, she is enthusiastic about both. However, with Baja coming up, she has been focussing on training for rallies, which demand more endurance. “Circuit racing is all about higher speeds, and a higher heart rate, but it’s done in 30 minutes,” explains Pissay, whose biggest inspirations are CS Santosh, and 13-time Women’s Trial World Champion, Laia Sanz. Santosh was the first Indian to participate in Pissay’s dream race, The Dakar Rally, while Sanz is the only female in the top 15 list of world champions. “It’s only been two years since India has begun recognising talent in female motorsports. I hope it only grows from here,” she concludes.
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