Indian rally legend Suresh Rana hopes to achieve a hat-trick at The 12th Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm, which was flagged off from New Delhi this morning.
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|Suresh Rana and navigator Ashwin Naik had won the 15th Raid de Himalaya X-Treme 4x4 in || |
Suresh Rana, the rallyist with the highest number of motorsport golds in the last two decades, is the defending champion at the rally.
His prime rival at the Storm is APRC (Asian Pacific Rally Championship) 2013 champion Gaurav Gill of Delhi. Rana has beaten Gill twice earlier at the Desert Storm, in 2012 and 2013. Both times, Gill had to bow out of the six-day motorsport event in the first stage itself.
Rana has won the Desert Storm thrice – in 2009, 2012 and 2013 and is also a nine-time winner of the iconic motorsport event, the Maruti Suzuki Raid De Himalaya.
Also spicing up the competition is three-time APRC champion Karamjit Singh, a Malaysian of Indian origin.
They are competing in Storm Xtreme, which is about driving high speed over the harsh, treacherous terrain of the Thar desert. Rana and Karamjit Singh are driving Grand Vitara for Team Maruti.
Manohar Bhat, vice president, marketing, Maruti Suzuki, said that the Desert Storm will traverse a gruelling 2,200 kilometers through the rough outback of Sardarshahar, Bikarner and Jaisalmer to finally end at Jaipur.
''It is a matter of pride for us that 250 champion rallyists from the country and abroad will compete in the event. There are 55 teams in Rally Xtreme (4X4), 35 bikers competing in Rally Moto, 30 teams in Rally Ndure and 20 teams in Rally Xplore,'' said Mr Bhat. The rally will end at Jaipur on March 1.
Rana's strategy for the Desert Storm is that of a hardened, experienced rallyist. The biggest challenge, he said, is the treacherous desert terrain. ''To finish first, you must finish,'' he quipped.
Rana admitted that driving top-speed in the sand can lead be tricky. ''One has to maintain momentum so that one doesn't get stuck, and take on the dunes at the right speed and angle,'' said Rana. He admitted that the two night stages at the Desert Storm – on the first and the last day of the event – could be the biggest challenge.
''The navigator's role is very strong here – there is no room for error. You need momentum, and you also need to make sure you don't get lost. During the night stages, if you can see 50 meters ahead, drive only that much, and refrain from wild risks. Getting lost in the wild desert outback can incur heavy penalties, and drive the best of competitors out of the event,'' he observed.
Rana's navigator is Ashwin Naik of Mangalore. The duo were also the winning team at The 15th Maruti Suzuki Raid De Himalaya 2013.
Karamjit Singh of Malaysia has been APRC champion in 2001, 2002 and 2004. His navigator for the Desert Storm is Parminder Thakur. Thakur, who hails from Manali, was the navigator for Rana in 2012 and also in 2013, when the duo won the top position at the Desert Storm.
The other major competitors in the Xtreme category (4X4) at the Desert Storm are Amanpreet Ahluwalia, Lohit Urs, Sunny Sidhu, Sandeep Sharma, Harpreet Bawa, Major Amarinder Singh Brar, Amartej Pal Buwal and Gaurav Chiripal.
The Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm is one of the toughest and most popular rallies in the country given the conditions, tough stages and spectacular terrain ranging from desert stretches and vast salt flats to dirt tracks.
Jayesh Desai, president of Northern Motorsport, which organizes the Desert Storm, said that the rally will run this year with the highest number of competitors, at 250. Last year, the total number of competitors stood at 220.
Rally Xtreme (4X4) and Rally Moto (motorcycles) are based solely on fastest timing. Rally Ndure and Rally Xplore follow the time-speed-distance format. Rally Ndure is the more challenging category here, since it follows the Xtreme route.
From a two-day rally over a decade ago, the Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm has evolved into a major motorsport event of massive proportions that now traverses the Thar desert and the entire span of the dune country.