It is unfortunate that two participants in the Mughal Rally - Jatinder Shukla and Ashish Mahajan - lost their lives when they had come to experience the thrill of rallying in one of the most picturesque places in the world. Perhaps, this should be an eye-opener to the organisers that they should not implement the 'Time, Speed and Distance (TSD)' format too strictly. To the uninitiated, the TSD is about the navigator's calculations and a driver maintaining a certain speed on an undisclosed route. TSD is entry-level motorsport where you can even use a street-going office vehicle without any major modification and the maximum permitted average speed by the governing body, the Federation of Motorsports Clubs of India (FMSCI), is 45kmph.
No recce is allowed as the route is undisclosed and the road-book is the only tool to guide the rallyists. Keeping in view the fatigue factor, certain location like villages, crowded towns etc are factored into the rally where the drivers have ample time at their disposal to travel long distances, in order to relax a bit. And, under no circumstances, can the rally run more than 12 hours at a stretch without giving a minimum break of six hours.
Since it is not the 'Xtreme category', where vehicles are built for high speed and drivers push the vehicles to the limit, the organisers normally give achievable TSD targets to the driver, keeping safety in mind.
The Sinthal pass is at an altitude of 13,500ft and the competitors had been driving 513km in treacherous mountain terrain from five in the morning. The organisers had set an average speed of 38kmph on a stage where human error is inevitable at twilight. During the pre-event briefing, most of the competitors had raised the issue of safety and medical evacuation in such conditions, but I'm not sure if the organisers paid heed to it.
It's time now the organisers take safety as their primary responsibility, so that mishaps, like the one that happened in the Mughal Rally two days back, does not get repeated.
The writer is a three-time national rally champion navigator and took part in the Xtreme category of the Mughal Rally for Mahindra. He has participated in 214 rallies in 21 years, including 30 international rallies.