The girl with the drive

Sree Sen
Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Meet Sayali Dhale, Pune’s first woman all-terrain vehicle (ATV) driver

Born in Yavatmal, Maharashtra, this young woman had her heart set on pursuing engineering, and joined the College of Engineering, Pune (CoEP). But little did Sayali Dhale know that her education in this college would throw open many more doors to platforms which were beyond her reach otherwise. Of course, the road was not easy but she took all the challenges with undaunted spirit and won accolades for herself as well as her college.

Dhale is Pune’s first woman all-terrain vehicle (ATV) driver who returned from the US a few months back, having taken her team to success. Her fighting spirit, stamina and ability to work under pressure stood her in good stead when it came to ATV driving competitions. Specially the hill climb in the US competition was a massive challenge which she cleared in one shot, grabbing the second spot for her team.
And it is not only on the track that Dhale has proved her mettle. An avid footballer, this 22-year-old has also played at the national level once.
Excerpts:

Tell us about Team Nemesis.
I have been playing football since Std VIII, and was the captain of my college team before joining Team Nemesis. It is a technical club in College of Engineering Pune, which participates in BAJA SAE competition organised by the Society of Automotive Engineers. The team is required to design, manufacture and test an all-terrain vehicle. We have been participating in BAJA SAE India since the year 2007 and have been the overall winners for a total of six times. This year, we participated in BAJA SAE India competition held in Pithampur (Indore) from Jan 25 to 28 and emerged as overall champions. 

How was the experience at the Maryland competition?
In USA BAJA SAE MARYLAND in April 2018, we came first in Sales event, finished top 10 in Cost event, Design finalist, second in Hill Climb, second in Acceleration, sixth in Endurance , and overall fourth. This was a very prestigious moment for us as a team, specially after months of gruelling training and preparation. When we reached the competition venue, all the other foreign teams would come to our station with inquiries since we were the India champions, the fastest and lightest team in Inthe country. It was a proud moment for us to interact with them. 
As the first Indian team to do so well was a huge achievement, and wouldn’t have been possible without the mentoring by faculty advisor Dr S N Sapali, director Dr B B Ahuja and team captain Tejas Belgamwar.
The US teams have been participating for years, but we were very well prepared for the competition. Our advantage was that we had prior knowledge and experience, having already participated in similar competitions in India.

How did you get the driver spot?
I had joined the team to work on the ATV’s suspension but then decided to try out when it was time to opt for a driver. The driver is required to be of light weight and intimately aware of the vehicle’s working, I was uniquely suited for both. The team would be dependent on the driver to prove the vehicle’s efficacy and realise the team’s success. After being selected to drive, I put in a lot of hours of testing, practising driving at night. Specially, since our vehicle was delivered late and we had only one day and night to assemble our vehicle, which reached late, rather than the five days we had hoped for. The vehicle was assembled overnight, and tested on the morning of the competition. Irrespective of these challenges, we were able to put up a good fight.

Being in US and the road ahead..
It was a dream come true, specially the experience was invaluable. I am really grateful to my parents who have been encouraging and enthusiastic about whatever I have done so far. Since finances were a huge hurdle, only a 10-member team was to go to the US and I was the only girl. It was also my first time in the US, out of the country, representing my college. This wouldn’t have been possible without my family’s support.
I recently graduated from CoEP and I want to pursue engineering in the automobile industry as a career option.

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