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Shriya Lohia makes single seater debut in Indian F4

"My first time in the car was an amazing experience" - Indian karting talent Shriya Lohia made her single seater debut in the third round of the Indian F4 Championship at Madras, making huge improvements and scoring two points after only a handful of laps in her sole test ahead of the weekend.

Shriya Lohia, 2023 Indian Formula 4 Championship
Photo credits: Srinivasa Krishnan | @srinivasakrishnan

The third round of the newly-launched Indian Formula 4 championship saw the single seater debut of a female racer – local talent Shriya Lohia – who not only became the first female driver to qualify for a race in the series, but also became the first woman to score points.

Lohia, 15, has been a rising star on the Indian karting scene and participated in multiple national and international karting championships and also attracted global attention when she qualified for the final stage of the 2022 Girls On Track - Rising Stars selections at Circuit Paul Ricard, when she was shared the track when some of the most promising female junior drivers worldwide.

Having made her debut aged nine, Lohia stepped up from the Junior to the Senior category in karting In her sixth season in the sport and continued to make progress in India, where she did well in an increasingly competitive environment.

"My 2023 karting season was a good year of learning, also a new environment with some experiments here and there with the karts", she told us. "I drove a bit in the Junior category and then moved up to the Senior category where in the races I had pace to compete in top 5 in my first weekend itself."

"Overall it was an eventful season also with some scary incidents as well, but all in all just made me stronger", she continued. "My karting season's performance was appreciated by being awarded with the Best Female Driver award for the second year in a row."

In 2022, she had also been awarded with the Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar by the Prime Minister of India for excellence in sports, and she was recognized by the Indian ASN FMSCI with the Outstanding Women in Motorsports award.

After racing in Rotax Max Karting Championship India as well as in the Indian Karting Academy Trophy, Lohia started planning her next move to race cars – but she probably wouldn't have expected it to happen so quickly.

"A single seater testing was planned for this year, we were just waiting for the right time and opportunity to arise", said Shriya. The Indian Racing Festival package – which includes Indian Racing League and the brand-new F4 championship, run for the first time on Indian soil – was the perfect chance to challenge herself.

"I was called to participate in the unofficial test day for Round 2 of the Formula 4 Indian Championship, where the conditions weren't so great, with heavy rain in Chennai before the cyclone limiting that particular test day to only seven laps."

Shriya Lohia, 2023 Indian Formula 4 Championship
Photo by: Gopinath Venugopal & Machine Trackers | @hoogram_

The series in fact hosted a collective test day prior to the official race days on Saturday and Sunday, and Lohia had the chance to get behind the wheel of a single seater for the very first time and taste the new generation Mygale F4, which produces up to 180hp.

Despite the adverse weather that severely limited the track time, there was a lot to take in for the young racer.

"My first time in the car was an amazing experience", she told us. "From karting to Formula 4, there were lots of things I had to learn in order to adapt to the car and its functions. The car of course has a lot more features than a kart would, so at first it takes a while to get used to all of that. I think with more track time in the car, comes more understanding which then enables us to push ourselves more."

Her racing return would come only one week later, when the third round was moved from the proposed Chennai street circuit to the Madras International Circuit, which had hosted the previous rounds as well as Shriya's first test. To jump in the car in racing conditions was a huge task – but it was one that Lohia accepted with enthusiasm and determination, as well as with realistic goals: improving sessions after session.

And it was a highly successful effort in that regard, as Shriya got familiar with the car for the first time in dry conditions and started to get in the rhythm, obliterating her personal bests at each run. From practice to qualifying 1, she improved by five seconds. One more second was taken out in Q2, where she was classified ninth.

"A difficult thing for me as of now has just been finding the limits of the car, with more laps I am able to understand it more and the certain braking, acceleration and turning points and pressure which in turn helps me improve on my times little by little" – she explained, as she continuously reduced the gaps to the top.

Shriya Lohia, 2023 Indian Formula 4 Championship
Photo credits: Srinivasa Krishnan | @srinivasakrishnan

In its inaugural season, all the Indian F4 cars received the crucial technical assistance of top Dutch team MP Motorsport, which runs successful operations in some FIA F2, FIA F3, F1 Academy as well as several top F4 championships in Europe.

Moving her first steps in race cars, Lohia had the opportunity to work alongside some highly respected professionals in the sport.

"Working with MP Motorsport is an absolute joy", she stressed. "All the mechanics and engineers are very understanding and knowledgeable. I was fortunate enough to work with an all-female team from the start of testing. Working with Charlotte [Phelps] has been nothing short of amazing, considering the amount of experience and knowledge she comes with, I've been able to learn a lot of things that are imperative to improve every session and race."

Phelps is one of the most experienced data, systems and race engineers and has most recently worked in F1 Academy, after holding the position of Lead Systems and Performance Engineer at W Series. Part of this all-female team was also one of the youngest female engineers and a female mechanic, who immediately bonded with Lohia and played a central role in helping her get up to speed quickly.

"Learning from Nida [Anis], one of the younger engineers, was also a great experience", Shriya said. "My mechanic Lulu [Clearwater] has been really helpful in getting me adapted to the car as quickly as possible. Overall all the team members have been a crucial part of my development in the past few days."

Having made the grid was the first successfully overcome hurdle; on Saturday, Lohia had a clean race, made no mistakes and significantly improved her times once again, taking the chequered flag to become the first woman to ever score points in Indian F4 with a tenth place.

Shriya Lohia, 2023 Indian Formula 4 Championship
Photo by: Gopinath Venugopal & Machine Trackers | @hoogram_

"Due to the limited testing, I actually had my first ever practice race start in the pitlane just 10 minutes before the start of the first race", Lohia explained, highlighting how she had to familiarize with all the procedures even before focusing on performance. "Going into the first race – especially with the shorter layout of MMRT – the main objective was just to learn how a race start works, push myself every single lap and just improve on my times to close the gap to the experienced drivers."

Later in the day, she had one more chance to showcase her progress; with championship leader Cooper Webster starting from the pitlane after an issue in the formation lap, Shriya kept him behind on the first lap, then moved back up into ninth place when Rishab Jain dropped down the order on lap 6. While Jain would reclaim the position taking advantage from the traffic of the leaders, Lohia settled in her rhythm and clocked her best lap of the weekend – almost 8 seconds quicker than her benchmarks at the beginning of the weekend.

"My first weekend in the car I'd say was good, the way I'd expected it to be", she summed up. "Pace-wise I was able to push myself quite a lot when needed, starting off the first session with a 12 second gap to the fastest finishing off the fourth session with a 4 second gap to fastest. There was of course room for improvement but I didn't expect too much from myself on my first day, as it was mainly about getting to know the car and the track."

Unfortunately, an illness ruled her out of the three Sunday's races: "I was pretty disappointed being unable to drive the remaining three races due to a sudden illness", she mentioned. "I woke up feeling a bit unwell, met with the track doctor and he advised me not to race due to the drowsiness effect of the medicine."

Nevertheless, with two points to her name in the drivers' standings and with invaluable experience under her belt, Shriya Lohia wrote her name in the history books of the series and is determined to continue the progression in the near future.

"My goal now is to hone my skills in the F4 car and in the championships, to help me eventually get better to climb up the formula ladder", she continued. "I am planning to test the car in the last round of the championship as well. My plans for next year aren't confirmed as of yet but I would like to try for a full season of F4 to officially kickstart my single seater competitive career."

Shriya Lohia, 2023 Indian Formula 4 Championship
Photo credits: Srinivasa Krishnan | @srinivasakrishnan



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