Karachi natives Ronnie and Tushna Patel are not only trendsetters as perhaps the first and only ‘rally racing couple’ of Pakistan but are also trailblazers who set a roadmap which other minorities can aspire to and tread on.
Ronnie Patel hails from a Parsi (Zoroastrian) family of the city and completed his early education from the BVS Parsi High School. He shared that he first developed an interest in becoming a professional car rally driver after he won his first race back in 1980, “and it’s been continuing until now.”
“Mostly I always participate in the open category — the biggest and fastest race with all the big guns. I love the races in Thal and Hub but every rally has its own charm and degree of adventure,” he said, adding that the Jhal Magsi Desert Challenge is the most technical of them all. Ronnie has also represented Pakistan in the Dubai Autocross & Desert Rally where he achieved the first and seventh position, respectively.
Talking about the lack of official support for the sport, he complained that this most adventurous game gets very little sponsorships and all the expenses have to be borne from the racer’s pockets. He regretted not having sufficient space to practice rally driving but added that despite these constraints the senior racers do all they can to help train young, aspiring racers.
When asked about any discrimination they might have faced in their races, Ronnie stressed that that has never been the case. “We always express ourselves freely and never feel like minorities,” he emphasised.
A family profession
The story — and talent — doesn’t end here. Ronnie’s wife, Tushna, who mastered the art of driving after her marriage, made headlines when she became the first professional female racer to compete in a rally in 2013.
“I feel very proud of Tushna as she is a very brave and good driver who has won most of the rallies in Pakistan,” said Ronnie. After removing the hurdles holding back women from such all-male events, Ronnie said she is always promoting and motivating young girl drivers to get into the sport.
Talking to Sabaat, Tushna, who also works as a principal of The Wendy School in Karachi, said she accompanied her husband at the 2005 Cholistan Rally which was her first exposure to the sport and piqued her interest.
She then started racing and winning professionally in 2013, including in Jhal Magsi, Cholistan, Gwadar, Thal, Bolan and Hub. Tushna’s first rally vehicle was a 3500cc Toyota Vigo but she now races in a 4000cc Toyota Tacoma.
Sharing her experiences, she said, “I have raced in both men and women categories and won trophies in both kinds of races.”
Echoing Ronnie’s comments regarding the lack of support for the sport, she reiterated that lack of sponsors is an issue plaguing all categories of the races.
She added that becoming the first woman racer was not difficult at all as she was welcomed by all her male peers. Tushna stated that it speaks to the positivity and inclusiveness of our society that she has never felt any discrimination as a minority member nor as a lady driver.
“I have not yet represented Pakistan internationally but would like to see our racers go global and win races there too.”