After completing registrations and other formalities, the rally drivers and riders along with their teams had a long transport stage from Delhi to Bikaner, where the Desert Storm 2019 would commence. The rallyists were flagged off Wednesday evening, immediately heading for the stages. The competition went on until late at night in the sand trails of Bikaner.
The Xtreme category saw veteran rally driver Sunny Sidhu with Co-driver Ashwin Naik at the top of the leader board of (SS 1 – 3) at 2:05:53. In Moto Category, France’s Adrian Metge of TVS Racing held pole position with a total time (SS 1 & 2) of 1:05:03 and was closely followed by India’s CS Santosh, who represents Hero Motosports Team Rally, with timings of 1:07:23. India’s Dakar hero Santosh made a good recovery after his crash exit in SS 3 at Desert Storm 2018 and gave a good competition to Metge. TVS Racing’s Abdul Wahid Tanveer secured third position at 1:10:11.
In Xtreme Category, Sidhu was number one on the leaderboard followed by reigning champion Aabhishek Mishra with co-driver Srikanth Gowda from Team Sparky’s Garage with a total time of 2:15:35 closely followed by Samrat Yadav with co-driver Kunal Kashyap with timings of 2:16:03. Star rally racer Gaurav Gill with co-driver Musa Sherif took the fourth position with cumulative Leg 1 timings of 2:16:35.
Unfortunately, eight participants in the Moto category and four participants in the Xtreme categories had to retire out of the race in leg 1. While all of them looked determined to finish the stages, the scorching heat got the better of them as the participants and their machines struggled in extreme temperatures. Among the competitors who didn’t make it through after the end of Day 1 include Imran Pasha (TVS Racing), Sarath Shenoy, Renuka M from Moto Category and Phillipos Mathai (co-driver PVS Moorthy) of Team Mahindra Adventure, Sanjay Agarwal (co-driver Smitha N) from Xtreme category. Although they still have a chance to restart from next leg. It will be difficult for the contenders to make up for the time lost as they could not complete Day 1.
Ndure Category saw Ankur Chauhan (Co-Driver Prakash M) at the first position with a cumulative Leg Penalty of just 13 minutes 38 seconds after 8 sections of regularity rallying followed by Deepak Sachdeva (co-driver Japjyot Singh Dhingra) with leg penalty of 31 minutes 30 sectors and Capt Abhilash Singh (co-driver Aashish Agarwal) with cumulative leg penalty of 31 minutes 34 seconds at the second and third position respectively.
SS 1 section of the rally started from Noorsar village in Bikaner district and went on for 41km. This stage claimed a victim in Xtreme category, contender Sanjay Agarwal’s (co-Driver Smith N) Maruti Suzuki Grand Vitara which went up in massive flames due to overheating & electrical issues. SS 2 section took off from Rajasar village stretching across 46 Km before the finish line. Both Moto and Xtreme categories had to undergo SS 1 & 2.
The SS 3 Night stage was exclusive for the Xtreme category and started from Kelan village, also in Bikaner district. It was 41km long. SS 3 proved out to be a navigational nightmare for most of the competitors due to the fatigue from previous stages & lack of light.
Aishwarya Pissay from Team TVS Racing described the day as, “This year with the heat being quite extreme, the first day was still quite wonderful & challenging. Stage 1 was a little more challenging than stage 2 but both of them were really fast. I had a couple of falls but it was all fun and no major injury. I look forward to attacking one day at a time; day 1 is done –day 2 is next!” Aishwarya stood at an overall 23rd place in provisional results of Leg 1.
With only one remaining stage in Bikaner. The competition will head to the golden frontier of Jaisalmer for remaining set of special stages. With some spectacular fight in the top order and numerous retirements on day 1 itself. Rally Desert Storm 2019 seems to be taking an interesting turn. It will be exciting to see how the competitors fare upon the challenges posed by daunting temperature and unforgiving terrain.