The Desert Storm is a mighty tough desert rally and going unprepared is one of learning things the hard way. For ed Sirish Chandran and Aniruddha Rangnekar though, this was an experience of a lifetime. Want to know how their make-shift rally-prepared Maruti Suzuki Gypsy made it to the finish? or did it? Keep reading..
In a rally, when you’re out, you’re out. You can re-join for leg points but you’re out of the overall standings. Except this is a cross-country rally, spanning a week, and just like in the Dakar competitors can re-join despite DNF-ing (Did Not Finish) the previous day. There’s a caveat though and the truckload of penalties we were slapped with saw us start the third day at the very back of the field. Dead freaking last! I really, really wanted to go back home but Anu, a true-blue sportsman if there were any, insisted we carry on. “Anything can happen. We cannot quit. We have to continue. We have to reach Jodhpur.” There’s always a silver lining though and for us it was the fact that there wasn’t anybody behind to overtake our sputtering Gypsy.
Day three was a monster day with a monster 198km stage. Can you imagine driving for over four hours, flat out… in something that has no power steering, if I need to remind you. Three service points were identified in the stage but the clock would keep ticking and all the time spent in service would be added to our stage time. I mull over skipping service and making up some time but quickly dismiss the thought when the engine temperature needle crosses the H mark in the first five kilometres. I stick it in fifth gear and ask Anu to keep an eye out for huts that we could take shelter in when the car packs up. Being down on power we get stuck in a dune just 5km short of our service crew waiting for us at the 97km mark. Luckily the Gypsy is a light vehicle and some shovelling and backand- forth rocking is enough to pry her loose. I reverse back down, take a longer run up, go flat out over some vicious ruts so as not to lose momentum and finally make it up, seeing stars after banging my head against the roll cage. 5km later we meet our service crew, pour water over the radiator, dump 20 litres of fuel (we don’t have an auxiliary tank either!) and are back off.
It turns out to be an eventful stage. Despite the ’ol girl being down on power we overtake a bunch of Gypsys. We even spend 20 minutes yanking Bani Yadav who had managed to beach herself spectacularly. Fellow competitors helped us out when we broke down on day two and it is only right that we pay our dues and help out a stricken competitor. But despite all this we still clock the second fastest time in our T2 class. Much to our surprise the ’ol girl made it to the end of the stage and as we chug back to Jaisalmer she stutters, putters and breaks down 20km short of the city. And that’s where our luck turns. Couple of Rajasthanis taking fuel to their village on the Pak border give us 10 litres and we finally discover the silent villain. Turns out the fuel pump was faulty all throughout and was robbing us of power. RK replaces it in overnight service, advances the ignition timing back to where it should be, connects the fan directly to the crank to sort out the overheating and the next day it’s like we have a new car to ourselves. The 20 horses that were sleeping suddenly wake up and – finally! – we are no longer a disgrace to the rallying fraternity.
Two big Hella auxiliary lamps add twenty bhp to a rally car, at least in the driver’s head. It looks so bloody cool! And rallying in the Time Control he was late by half an hour and that dropped him to second. Santosh also had a horrid crash on day three where he overshot a corner and hit a barbed wire fence that wasn’t marked on the road book. The wire caught him in the helmet (his goggles were punctured!), he blacked out and had to be assisted by fellow riders. “What if the wire had caught me in the neck?” he asked me when I met him that night! And not only was he shaken up but for the rest of the rally he had a nerve tingle that meant he couldn’t even straighten his left hand. TVS Racing’s Nataraj won the moto class but it has to be said the TVS boys on their smaller machines rode superbly to stay within shouting distance of Santosh.
It has to be said that the Northern Motorsport guys and Maruti Suzuki Motorsport know how to put on a great show. It’s rare to find an organiser who is concerned about competitors. In fact most INRC organisers act as if they’re doing competitors a favour by organising events. On the Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm though we were all looked after really well. Every night we slept in really good hotels, ate good meals, generally were very well taken care of. Two stages were delayed but that was because of local issues, otherwise everything ran to clockwork – no mean feat considering the stage distances and the remote areas we were rallying in. If there’s one irritant, it’s the enthusiasm with which fines are imposed in scrutiny every morning – I paid 500 bucks for a faulty parking light – but that’s hardly going to dissuade me from coming back next year. Northern Motorsport are also genuinely interested in improving the standard of crosscountry rallying so that we are better prepared if and when we graduate to international events.
Long stages, night stages, GPS navigation, stages that in places do resemble the Dakar, even the friendly prods to come better prepared with a better looking car next year – it’s all so that the standard of rallying moves North. And the best part is at the end of it all they send you home with a really, really nice trophy, inspiring you to come back the next year, put in the miles and hopefully get closer to whatever rainbow you’re chasing. Even if it sounds as far fetched as the Dakar.