The highly anticipated Indian National Rally Championship is underway in Chennai, and with the Champions Yacht Club as the new promoter this year, the championship was in for a revamp. 51 entries from all over India were fielded by five teams. Team Champions themselves had a 19 driver who were also joined by numerous private entrants. All this at the first round was surely some mad response for the sport. Also, this year marks the 41st edition of what is widely known as the South India Rally. The round will run for a total distance of 298.70 km, with as many as 117.33 km earmarked for 11 special stages on gravel and dirt tracks. After the SSS on Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 will see five stages each
Defending champion, Gaurav Gill is driving a newly built R2C-spec, turbo petrol Super XUV300 with JK Tyres while his teammate Amittrajit Ghosh pilots the turbo diesel Super XUV300 on MRF Tyres. With experienced rally drivers such as Gill, Karna Kadur, Younus Ilyas and Dean, JK Tyre Motorsports was aiming at a superb comeback into the sport. Young female racer, Shivani Prithvi was also driving Mitsubishi Cedia running on JK Tyre’s.
The championship took off with a Super Special Stage that used a part of the track in reverse. The rally cars, most of them which have been tested and setup for gravel had to take on the tarmac with slicks or semi-slick tyres. The first to start was the country’s fastest rally driver, Gaurav Gill. Spectators and officials were surprised with Gill’s run and knew he had lost valuable seconds as he came under steering into the second corner. He was way off the pace, and by the end of the stage was seven seconds slower than Bikku Babu who had clocked the fastest time. However, this was a new experience for Gill and co-driver Musa Sherif with a new car and new tyre manufacturer. The duo hoped to make up for time once they hit the dirt on day two. With an Arka Motorsport built 1.2 TSI-powered Polo, Karna Kadur tried his post a good run. Karna was 2 seconds behind Bikku who won the days Triple S. Bangalore’s Rahul Kanthraj was a second behind Karna for third place. An interesting start to the championship.
“I am looking forward to this season as I will not only be in a new car but also on new tyres,” Gill said, at the press conference, a few hours before the opening stage. “I have tested the car and it’s the best in the class. I am sure it’s going to suit my style of driving,” Gill added.
The second day saw five competitive stages with the first stage (SSS) of the day being on tarmac. Karna was in top form, and was able to post the fastest time in the 4.8km SS2. Bikku who was driving in the INRC 2 class had a similar, clean run but was a barely a second off Karna’s pace. Phalguna Urs who was driving a Volkswagen Polo R2c (1.2 TSI) was able to keep up with a time of 3 minute, 11.100 seconds which was more than a second (1.700 seconds) off the leader. Gill was able to improve his run, overcoming his setup and clocking the fourth fastest time to start the day. Dean who was driving an INRC 2 Polo manoeuvred a brilliant save going too fast into a hard right, but it slowed him down, putting him in ninth spot.
The drivers then sped off to Avissa Township for the third stage which was 14.5km long. Team Champion’s Dean was the fastest to finish this stage with a time of 14 minutes and 7 seconds. The duo of Chetan Shivram and Dilip Sharan finished the stage with a time only one second off Dean’s pace. Gill was again only fast enough to finish fourth, behind Bikku who was third. Karna’s Polo suffered a technical malfunction just 900 metres after stage start pushing him to bottom half of the charts.
Chetan who drives the INRC 3 class, was faster during the 11.2km SS4, posting a time of 10 minutes and eight seconds. Rahul Kanthraj also gave a clean run at the track with the second fastest time. Both Gill and Karna suffered technical problems pushing them to the bottom half of the chart in 35th and 37th place respectively. However, Gill was back in the top zone with the second best time in SS5 behind stage winner Chetan and also winning the last stage of the day.
JK Tyre backed Team Champion’s driver Dean Mascarenhas with co-driver Shruptha Padival are in the lead (overall) after day two finishing the stages with a cumulative time of 54 minutes and 48.800 seconds. Rahul Kanthraj is in second spot while Fabid Ahmer is in third.
1) Dean Mascarenhas & Shruptha Padival – 54.48.800; 2) Rahul Kanthraj & Vivek Bhatt – 54.58.100 min; Fabid Ahmer & Sanath G – 55:03.000 mins
1) Amittrajit Ghosh & Ashwin Naik – 55.26.100 mins; 2) Gaurav Gill & Musa Sherif – 56:30.300 mins; 3) Phalguna URS & Srikanth Gowda – 56.54.700 mins
1) Dean Mascarenhas & Shruptha Padival – 54.48.800; 2) Rahul Kanthraj & Vivek Bhatt – 54.58.100 min; 3) Younus Ilyas – 55:18.300 mins
1) Fabid Ahmer & Sanath G – 55:03.000 mins;2) Chetan Shivram & Dilip Sharan – 55:04.300 min; 3) Sahil Khanna & Rajit Kadian – 57.15.700 mins