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Off-roading: How it has evolved into a serious sport in India
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Off-roading: How it has evolved into a serious sport in India

By Bijoy Kumar

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Off-roading: How it has evolved into a serious sport in India

Every week I get at least one request to support an off-roading event in some part of the country. More the merrier I say and we try our best to support some, if not all of them. There are big-ticket events meant for professional off-roaders like the Rain Forest Challenge and Club Challenge and scores of one-day events where 4X4 enthusiasts meet to have some fun. Unfortunately, in the quest to have fun, many of these events are run without the all-important safety net. There is no governing body in the country that could formulate off-roading regulations, to begin with. A couple of years ago, I was part of a special meeting with the FMSCI (Federation of Motorsport Clubs of India) and some effort was taken to see if off-roading can be brought under the aegis of motorsport. Well, nothing much materialised after that and we have off-roading clubs and events mushrooming without any control.

The problem is compounded by social media that tends to love disasters

A modified 4X4 vehicle needling through some scientific obstacles is not as much fun to watch as another rolling over spectacularly without a roll-cage or safety harness. While I can blame the system or lack of it, what can solve the problem is understanding why people off-road to begin with. And if we can appreciate and celebrate the ‘spirit’ of off-roading, half the battle will be won.

“Off-roading needs to be a test of skills with certain purpose and spirit than brute force alone.”

Let me explain. Off-road vehicles came into being as by-products of two very nasty wars and when the armies of the world realised that the earth is not exactly flat and forces needed to move swiftly between points to gain advantage over the enemy. Some people found these specially developed vehicles important for their survival even in peacetime. These vehicles and their skilled drivers were important to reach inaccessible places and played a crucial role in rescue and recovery when natural disasters struck. Like off-road trial events for motorcycles, off-road events that challenged the vehicle as well as the driver were born. If you filter the key ingredients of the above three lines, you will understand that for off-roading to be a sport, it needs to be a test of skills with certain purpose and spirit than brute force alone.

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Obstacles in off-roading are designed to test skill

So, my appeal to the organisers of off-road events is to ensure that obstacles are designed to test skill – ability to handle diverse terrain like mud, sand and snow, ability to cross water bodies, ability to handle steep inclines and drops and ability to crawl over rock surfaces. Precision driving and judgement are rewarded here as against horsepower and money spent on modifications.

“Off-roading as a sport is a clear winner when the ‘spirit of off-roading’ is what it is based on”

Simulating rescue operations can also add fun and get spectators excited and at the same time be seen in a very positive light. Many off-road events in our country do not give importance to the spotters or guides who ensure that the drivers are given the right direction. Trust me, there is no point in having a V8 powered 4X4 with huge tyres if the driver does not know where to go! Equally important is to simulate obstacles where the ability to help each other using the correct and safe winching technique is shown. Another trait of a good off-roader is to preserve his vehicles – what is the point of crossing a river with your bonnet under the water only to have hydrostatic lock and a dead vehicle on the other side? In short, off-roading as a sport is a clear winner when the ‘spirit of off-roading’ is what it is based on.

Things have improved over the years

Just a decade back I used to attend off-road drives that became an opportunity to drink, drive and make merry. I do see a serious effort being put into vehicle preparation and organisers beginning to insist on safety bits. It is still a tough trail to cross and I hope the right ‘spirit’ lives on.