Mahindra’s foray into extreme cross-country rallying is very commendable but there is still much that they and other manufacturers need to learn. HT photo
The 3rd edition of the Mughal Rally drew interest from three of the largest vehicle manufacturers in India. That in itself is exciting. After all, rallying in India had been confined to two tyre companies till now. While JK Tyre used rallying to totally alter its brand image in the recent past, MRF's exacting research on rally tracks has seen it develop tyres that now dominate the field in Asia-Pacific events.
Indian manufacturers in the past would make tall claims based on how their vehicles performed in the TSD (time, speed and distance) format. This form of the sport rewards those with good mathematical skills as stages have varied speeds allotted for different sections and checkpoints are secret. It hardly challenges the vehicle like high-speed rallying does. Nevertheless, their marketing departments would churn out huge ads proclaiming that their vehicles, which would fall apart in hardcore rallying, had conquered some of India's iconic events like the Raid de Himalaya.
THE GAME CHANGER
Mahindra, however, is now looking to change the game. The company has begun to enter the extreme category with a factory-backed team. It is actively working at improving its flagship XUV 500 with feedback from the rally tracks. Not to be left behind, Tata too made its own foray with a team in the Mughal Rally. Maruti, which has fast begun to lose its pioneer advantage in motorsport, also chose to back a driver who has dominated events in the Himalaya for the last decade.
The increase in interest apart, one can't help but wonder as to why the manufacturers with huge budgets still don't seem to have figured out the plot. While they are, thankfully, finally off the blocks, they are also off the mark.
Take the instance of Mahindra's team in the Mughal. India's best rally driver, Gaurav Gill, and former world rally participant Karamjit Singh from Malaysia are part of the team but both did not figure on the podium. While Gill struggled with a vehicle that just did not perform to his liking, Karamjit was let down by poor logistics.
Karamjit's final placing of seventh did allow this writer to rag him --- since even I was placed a dismal seventh in the bike event --- and state that we are equal in our own categories.
The worrying bit for Mahindra is that the driver was let down by his service team. After the end of the third stage, the Malaysian needed to replace a faulty brake pipe and wanted a new set of shock absorbers to take on the rough sections. However, a major part of the crew failed to make it to the service zone.
That was sloppy management, which saw him earn a 16-minute time penalty for late check-in as the piecemeal bunch that was present failed to get his vehicle repaired in time. Exclude the penalty from the final calculations and Karamjit leaps to second spot, 15 seconds off the eventual winner Amitrajit Ghosh.
Tata’s team in the Extreme section had Sanjay Takale of recent APRC acclaim. While the team is said to have a big budget, it certainly has not gone towards procuring the services of drivers who are on top of their game in India right now in hardcore rallying.
Maruti supported Suresh Rana but his Vitara was obviously not souped up like a works car. It failed to get through the very first stage of the rally.
While it is heartening that manufacturers are finally beginning to figure that extreme motorsport is the ideal testing ground for their products, it is obvious that they are yet to figure out the nuances of the game. Getting the right people on their teams and putting in precise accounting measures to prevent wastage of resources would go a long way in sustaining their own interest as well as lifting Indian rallying to a new high.
The writer participated in the Xtreme two-wheeler category of the Mughal Rally.