It was a particularly bumpy ride for both the organisers and the drivers at the Rally de North, the third round of the Indian National Rally Championship (INRC), on Sunday. The competitive stages of the rally were held near Manesar, Gurgaon — on the gravel side roads of the KMP expressway (the Delhi Western Peripheral Expressway).
With the national rally championship coming to north India after a gap of over a decade, everyone was keen to see a grand event. To start with, the rally would have added a much-needed geographic credibility to the national circuit.
The rally fraternity in India is clustered down south, where the most number of rounds of the nationals are held. Till this year, the Rally of Maharashtra in Nashik was the farthest the bandwagon would venture up north.
The interesting bit is though rally teams, tuners and most of the drivers are based down south, the north has produced some of India’s best — former Asia Pacific Rally (APRC) champion Gaurav Gill being the latest in the illustrious list that contains the likes of legends like Hari Singh.
Even the national championship struggles every year to find a full sponsor and rally enthusiasts were hoping an event in the NCR would help tap into the lucrative market here.
However, an oversight on the part of the organisers while laying out the stages landed the rally in trouble. The original plan to run it on the trails near Mangar village, close to the Asola wildlife sanctuary, attracted a PIL leading to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) cancelling the clearance.
To get the show on road, the organisers found an alternate venue adjacent to the KMP expressway. Two straight roads running parallel beside the elevated expressway were converted into special stages by throwing in a few chicanes and sharp turns to test the drivers. The turns were tight (tough for bigger cars like the Mahindra XUV and Mitsubishi Evo), while the artificial sand banks on the sides had most of the drivers worried about damages. So a conservative rally was expected.
Once the rally began, more problems crept up — the third and fourth stages of the eight-stage rally were cancelled due to cattle crossing.
However, the show did go on and optimism remains, especially if Rally de North becomes a regular fixture and the promoters look into alternate venues, maybe Greater Noida instead of the environmentally sensitive spots near Gurgaon.
The rally was won (provisional result) by Arjun Rao and co-driver Rajgopal Satish in a Volkswagen Polo, edging out Karna Kadur and Nikhil Pai of Team Yokohama (VW Polo). The Polos dominated and understandably so as the bigger cars of front-runners — Gill (co-driver Musa Sherif) and Amittrajit Ghosh (Ashwin Naik) of Mahindra Adventure — struggled in the tight corners. Gill, who is heading out to compete in the APRC rally in Japan next week, finished third in the rally.
Ghosh finished fifth and still leads the championship with two rounds to go. Rao is in second place and Gill third with just five points separating the top three.
Meanwhile, Dhirendra Kumar and co-driver Honey Narulla won the IRC segment (for foreign cars) of the Rally de North. The top contenders in the category — Abhilash PG (co-driver Srikanth Gowd) and Samir Thapar (GS Mann) — had a tough time in their Mitsubishis.
Mechanical issues with his Mitsubishi Evo VIII forced Abhilash out of the rally in the second stage, while Thapar, driving a Evo X, pulled out in the seventh stage.
The big cars were clearly struggling on the tight stages, but since both the title contenders pulled out, the championship standings remain the same with Abhilash leading Thapar.