Vaishali Dinakaran meets Leena Gade — the only female race engineer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, twice.
Picture this — a little girl staring at the television screen, transfixed, as Formula 1 cars charge across a racetrack. There’s a home hero to cheer for too (or as near a home hero as one can get if one is an Indian growing up in the United Kingdom) in the form of Nigel Mansell.
She watches as Mansell crosses the chequered flag first, taking the win in the race, and she is, quite simply, hooked to motorsport.
Years later, it’s that very same girl, not so little any more, sitting at the pit wall at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans. She’s not just cheering for the silver car that screeches down the main straight past her.
No, it’s far beyond that.
Leena Gade is the race engineer for the No 1 Audi R18 TDI. She’s the one calling all the shots for this car at this race.
So, just how did the motorsport connect begin for Gade?
Well, it goes further back than just rooting for Nigel Mansell. She recalls moving back to India when she was nine years old and meeting a family friend who was studying engineering; the tales he narrated of gears, sprockets, wires and more sparked an interest in her.
“It was probably at that time that my sister and I started taking things apart to see how they worked,” she laughs.
Add to that an interest in motorsport that was fuelled by watching Formula 1 races, enthusiastically commentated upon by former F1 world champion James Hunt and legendary motorsport caster Murray Walker, and the racing bug had well and truly bitten Leena. There simply was no escaping it after that!
Text: Vaishali Dinakaran (Business Standard)
Images courtsey: Business Standard Motoring