Defending champ Rana aims for Desert Storm hat-trick

New Delhi, Feb 21: Defending champion Suresh Rana aims for a hat-trick at the 12th Desert Storm car rally which will be flagged off from here Saturday.

Rana will take on two Asia Pacific Rally Champions (APRC) champions — Malaysia’s Karamjit Singh and Delhi’s Gaurav Gill — in the rally. All three are competing in Storm Xtreme which is about driving high speed over the treacherous terrain of the Thar desert. Rana and Karamjit Singh will drive for Team Maruti.

The rally will traverse a gruelling 2,200 km through the rough outback of Sardarshahar, Bikaner and Jaisalmer to finally end at Jaipur March 1.

“Some 250 rallyists from the country and abroad will compete in the event. There are 55 teams in Rally Xtreme (4X4), 35 bikers in Rally Moto, 30 teams in Rally Ndure and 20 teams in Rally Xplore,” Maruti Suzuki vice-president Manohar Bhat said.

Rana has won the Desert Storm thrice (2009, 2012, 2013) and is also a nine-time winner of the iconic Raid De Himalaya. Rana has beaten Gill twice earlier in the Desert Storm, in 2012 and 2013. Both times, Gill had to bow out of the six-day motorsport event in the first stage.

Both Rana and Karamjit are driving Grand Vitara. Rana’s strategy is that of a hardened, experienced rallyist. He said the biggest challenge is the treacherous desert terrain.

Rana admitted that driving top speed in the sand can 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, admitting that the two night stages — on the first and 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 to make sure you don’t get lost. During the night stages, if you can see 50 metres 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 said.

Rana’s navigator is Bangalore’s Ashwin Naik. The duo were the winning team at the 2013 Raid De Himalaya.

Karamjit has been an APRC champion in 2001, 2002 and 2004 and his navigator will be Parminder Thakur, who hails from Manali. Thakur was the navigator for Rana in 2012 and in 2013 when the duo won the Desert Storm.

The other major competitors in the Xtreme category (4X4) are Amanpreet Ahluwalia, Lohit Urs, Sunny Sidhu, Sandeep Sharma, Harpreet Bawa, Major Amarinder Singh Brar, Amartej Pal Buwal and Gaurav Chiripal.