New Delhi, Feb 22: The titans of India’s rally and cross-country events headlined by 2013 Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) winner Gaurav Gill and Suresh Rana, seeking a hat-trick of wins, besides former World Rally champion Karamjit Singh from Malaysia, will be going head-to-head in the six-day, 2,200 km 12th Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm commencing here Monday.
The Desert Storm, India’s answer to the famous Dakar Rally, takes the participants, divided into four categories — Xtreme, Moto-Quad (bikes and quads), Ndure and Xplore — from Delhi to Sardarshahar, Bikaner and Jaisalmer before finishing in Jaipur March 1.
While the Xtreme category has attracted 54 vehicles which will negotiate the Thar desert, there are 30 participants in Ndure, 17 in Xplore and 36 in Moto-Quad which will also follow the Xtreme route. The Ndure and Xplore categories will be run on the TSD (Time-Speed-Distance) format in contrast to Xtreme and Moto-Quad, which are about speed.
Nine times Raid de Himalaya champion Rana (co-driver Ashwin Naik), 2002 WRC (production class) winner Karamjit Singh (Paramjit Singh), Sanjay Agarwal (Shivaprakash) and Dharmpal Jhangra (G. Vinoth) will be driving the Grand Vitara and heading the Maruti Suzuki challenge in Xtreme.
Ranged against the foursome is an equally strong Mahindra Adventure quartet of Gill (Musa Sherif), Lohit Urs (K.R. Kumar), Sunny Sidhu (P.V.S. Murthy) and Rahul Kanthraj (Chandramouli). All barring Kanthraj, a late replacement for Vikram Mathias and who is driving a Scorpio, will be in the XUV 500.
For Gill, it is another opportunity to make up for two back-to-back disappointing outings in the previous two years when his vehicle packed up on the very first Special Stage. In contrast, Rana has enjoyed brilliant runs in the three major cross-country events, the Storm, Raid and Dakshin Dare, and would be keen to extend his supremacy.
Also in the mix are the five Maruti Gypsy vehicles of Team Thunderbolt from Chandigarh led by veteran Sandeep Sharma (Varun Davessar) and national championship regular Amanpreet Ahluwalia (Raghuram C.G.). Not to be overlooked is JCT Rallying team’s Samir Thapar with veteran Gurinder Singh Mann as his navigator in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X.
The Xtreme participants will have to survive two night stages, on the first and the last day, through sand dunes that will put a premium as much on driving skills as vehicle preparation besides precise navigation. The category will have Special Stages of 787 km besides 1,422 km of liaison distance, totalling 2,207 km over six days.
The Moto-Quad category too should witness some interesting battles in the grid that is headed by three-time Raid de Himalaya champion Helmut Frauwallner from Austria, representing Contiger Rally team and riding the Yamaha WR450F, and his chief rival C.S. Santosh from Bangalore, who will be astride a Suzuki RMX450.
The two have had running battles in the past during the cross-country events such as the Raid and Storm and their rivalry over the years has assumed fairy-tale proportions. Additionally, Frauwallner and Santosh have to contend with a strong challenge from a bunch of KTM and Honda riders.
The ones to watch in the Ndure and Xplore categories are Pune’s Sanjay Takale (Mohd. Mustafa), the 2-Wheel Drive APRC champion, and 2012 national TSD rally champion Satish Gopalkrishnan (Savera D’Souza) from Bangalore, respectively.