This year’s season of the Indian National Rally Championship or INRC kicked off from India’s motorsport capital, Coimbatore. Now in its 30th year INRC has grown leaps and bounds from the time it started way back in 1988. The series is organised by the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India or FMSCI and Kolkata based Ramakrishna Race performance management limited came on board as promoters last year for a three year period.
The first weekend of the 2017 season began with the compulsory scrutiny of the cars. There is a long list of safety regulations that need to be followed as motorsport may get dangerous. It is obligatory for both the car and its occupants to adhere to all essential safety requirements. A team of scrutinisers do a detailed check to ensure both the vehicle and participants are absolutely ready to take on the tough challenges that make a rally. In the car the major areas of focus include having a roll cage along with specified harness and seats. With respect to participants checks are made for the quality of their helmets, shoes, gloves and so on.
In all 32 drivers signed up for the Rally of Coimbatore. They were divided into 4 different categories namely INRC, INRC 2, INRC 3 and the 2 wheel drive cup. Some of the major competitors included current APRC and 4-time INRC champion Gaurav Gill driving for team Mahindra, his teammate and 2 time INRC champion Amritrajit Ghosh, defending champion Karna Kadur driving for ARKA motorsport and Arjun Rao driving for AR Racing.
On a hot Sunday drivers and co-drivers got ready to take on the five special stages of the Rally. The stages would take place around the village of Kethanur on the outskirts of Coimbatore. In all the cars would run a total of 71.4 kms on these gravel stages. Stage 1 began as defending Champion Karna Kadur of Arka Motorsport was the first driver to be flagged off. Driving his Volkswagen Polo Kadur along with co-driver Nikhil Pai set a good time for others to follow. But team Mahindra’s Gaurav Gill who couldn’t finish in Coimbatore last year as his car broke down drove his car faster than Kadur to take the lead at the end of the first stage. He finished the stage with a lead of over 18 seconds over his teammate Amritrajit Ghosh. Kadur could only manage the third fastest time in the stage.
The second stage took the drivers through similar terrains. The stages were fresh and first few drivers got a fast and forgiving surface to drive on. Hundreds of windmills made for a beautiful background as the drivers and co-drivers tried to tackle the challenges the rally threw at them. Amongst those challenges were the artificial jumps that were created by the organisers to attract more spectators to the event. A good holiday crowd indeed assembled at the spectator points to enjoy the spectacle. They were treated to some brilliant and daring driving, with the stars of Indian rallying hitting the chicanes at high speed and leaving behind a trail of dust. Gaurav Gill along with co-driver Musa Sherif got the fastest time in stage 2 beating the next car of Karna Kadur of by a good 20 seconds.
The drivers were back in the same stages they drove on earlier in the day for stages 3 and 4 but this is it was a bigger challenge as the soil became more lose and that just meant one thing—more possible damage to the cars. It’s not for nothing that the Rally of Coimbatore has also got the dubious reputation of being a car breaker. While Gill and Kadur kept the first two spots with them in stages 3 & 4 it was a tough battle for the final podium position between Team Mahindra’s Amritrajit Ghosh and Dean Mascarenhas who was driving a Volkswagen Polo. While Ghosh was faster in stage 3, Dean got the better of both him and Kadur in stage 4. One final stage remained as the competitors came back to the service park for a much needed break.
4 time INRC champion Gill got into the final stage with a very healthy lead and the only thing that could put his win in danger would be a possible car breakdown like the previous year. But that was not to be as raced to victory with ease. He tackled the gravel road with all its twists and turns in his typical aggressive way to win by a gap of more than a minute and a half. Karna Kadur finished second overall in his Volkswagen Polo with a time of 1 hour 2 mins and 9 secs. Amittrajit Ghosh and Ashwin Naik from Team Mahindra Adventure grabbed the last place on the podium even though they had technical issues with their vehicle.
The remaining rounds of this year’s INRC season will take the Rallyists to different parts of the country including the state of Arunachal Pradesh which will be hosting an INRC round for the first time ever.
Shams Naqvi is an anchor/producer for the News X motor show Living Cars