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The 12th Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm 2014 got under way in Delhi over the weekend, setting the stage for Gaurav Gill and Suresh Rana to test their wits against each other, in a highly-anticipated Battle Royale in the sands of Rajasthan. Over the next eight days, the who’s who of Indian motorsport will be racing for top honours in India’s “mini-Dakar”.
Local man Rana will be aiming for a hat-trick of titles at the Desert Storm, and his sternest challenge will come from two APRC champions – Delhi’s Gill and Malaysia’s Karamjit Singh. The rally will traverse a gruelling 2,200 kilometres across the Thar Desert – through the harsh terrain of Sardarshahar, Bikaner and Jaisalmer – before ending in Jaipur.
The Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm has graduated from a single-category event in 2003 to one run in four categories – Xtreme, Moto, Ndure and Xplore. Competitors in the Rally Xtreme (4X4) and Rally Moto (motorcycles) categories are judged on the fastest times, while the Rally Ndure and Rally Xplore categories follow the time-speed-distance format.
Both Gill and Rana are competing in the Storm Xtreme category, which puts an emphasis on driving quickly over the harsh and often treacherous terrain of the Thar. Rana is a three-time winner of the Desert Storm (2009, ’12, ’13), and a nine-time champ of India’s iconic motorsport event, the Maruti Suzuki Raid De Himalaya. Gill will be hoping to make up for his early exits in the last couple of editions, when he bowed out in the first stage itself. Third time lucky, maybe?
Rana’s strategy for the Desert Storm is that of an experienced – and hardened – rallyist. The biggest obstacle, he feels, is the desert terrain – as he quips, “To finish first, you must finish.” Rana admitted that driving top speeds in the sand can be problematical. “One has to maintain momentum so that one doesn’t get stuck, and take on the dunes at the right speed and angle.”
He felt that the rally’s two night stages – on the first and the last day – could prove to 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 metres ahead, drive only that much, and refrain from (taking) wild risks. Getting lost in the wild desert outback can incur heavy penalties, and drive the best of competitors out of the event,” Rana observed.
Meanwhile, on two wheels, expect a no-holds-barred contest between Bangalore’s CS Santosh – India’s top off-road biker, and multiple national supercross and motocross champion – and Helmut Frauwallner. The Austrian, popularly known as “Helly”, has been big on the Indian motorsport circuit in the last few years. He was first in the Moto category at the 2010 and 2013 Raid De Himalaya (in the 2012 ‘Raid’, Santosh narrowly beat Frauwallner to top the category).
Vijay Parmar – president of Himalayan Motorsport (organizers of the Raid De Himalaya), and Adventure Nation Guru for motorsport – said the competition between Santosh and Helly is going to be absolutely fierce. “These two riders are in a separate class. They are going to be far ahead of the rest of the competition.
“Helly is 55, but he is amazingly fast, and a highly skilful rider. Santosh is a star of supercross and motocross. He should be in his element here,” said Parmar. With a total of 35 entrants, the number of bikers at the Desert Storm is the highest ever in the event’s 12-year history.
The 2014 Desert Storm promises high-octane excitement – and hopefully some thrilling finishes!