‘Racing improves the breed’. It's an old saying but an apt one as far as automobile manufacturers are concerned. Where else but in motorsports events like the Desert Storm will Indian car manufacturers get to put their latest products up against the king of off-road events for nearly two decades;
Maruti-Suzuki's Gypsy remains the top dog in off-road motorsports events like the Desert Storm. HT Photo/Vinayak Pande
It was surprising then that up until this year's edition of the Desert Storm, no manufacturer took the bold step to enter their latest factory backed cars to see how they would stack up against the reigning king. It was perhaps Sunny Siddhu's victory in a discontinued Suzuki XL7 on the 2011 Desert Storm that got the ball rolling at last.
Mahindra decided to enter two of their newly launched XUV 500s in the Xtreme category and put three-time Indian National Rally champion Gaurav Gill and Lohit Urs behind the wheel with a target of finishing in the top three. It became very apparent, however, that throwing their hot selling sports utility vehicle (SUV) into a competitive environment would be no cakewalk.
Both cars' electronic control unit overheated when it was reprogrammed to enable four wheel drive, which left both drivers with what was essentially a front-wheel drive vehicle on sandy desert stages against the nimble four-wheel drive Gypsy of former Desert Storm winner and seven-time Raid de Himalaya winner Suresh Rana, who hung on to win the rally.
Private entrants in the Xtreme category like Gaurav Chiripal had no one but himself to count on when he entered the Desert Storm in a Vitara, which ran as high as second. “We get nothing from Maruti,” said Chiripal. “Not even spares, which they give to the drivers of their cars in the Ndure category.” The car's performance even drew the ultimate praise from Rana. “The new Vitara can do well in the Raid,” said Rana.
(The writer's trip has been sponsored by Maruti-Suzuki)