A single-day yet intense rally format is something India hasn’t really seen. There have been either week long endurance rallies or something like the Indian National Rally Championships that also demand a 3 to 4-day weekend. All that changed with the arrival of Indian Baja, organized recently around the deserts of Bikaner, by Northern Motorsports, a Delhi-based organization. Now internationally Baja is a very popular format, sometimes running upto 1000 kms in within 24 hours; the India Baja wasn’t as long in terms of distance but surely was grueling enough.
Pronounced as this short, ‘Ba’ha, it is an intense form of rallying packed in an unprecedented amount of action into a short time frame of less than 24 hours. A world class concept originating in the Baja peninsula of North America, it attracted competitors on motorcycles, cars and trucks racing night and day on the same course with mandatory checkpoints along the way. In Northern Motorsport’s India Baja 2016, 29 bikes and 32 cars ran non-stop for over 300 kms of timed, competitive sections, or ‘stages’. The total track length was approximately 500 km.It was a visual treat for the spectators as bikes and cars ranging from 200 cc to more than 2000 cc ran across the testing desert dunes.
The designated route of the event passed the beautiful villages of Noorsar, Nal, Karnisar, Kela on the outskirts of Bikaner as competitors strove to set the quickest time possible. The desert terrain provided the perfect platform for participants to show their skills on their quads, cars and bikes. The India Baja 2016 had an impressive line-up of the top competitors of India. There were different category of vehicles like T1 (modified), T2 (stock) and T3 (purpose built vehicles) and some of the leading names of Indian Motorsport circuit were in attendance.These included multiple Raid-de-Himalaya winner Suresh Rana along with usual suspects like Sunny Sidhu, Raj Singh Rathore along with a fair share of newcomers who were extremely upbeat about the concept of the rally. The moto category was led by CS Santosh, the only Indian biker to complete the famed Dakar Rally along with seasoned campaigners like Vijay Parmar and Jes David.
In all there were 6 stages that ran almost non-stop through the course of night and day. The rally set new benchmarks in survivability since only 7 bikes and 10 cars managed to complete all the stages and make it to the finish. Night stages were a big challenge especially for the first timers. In words of Suresh Rana, the navigators job become even more important during the night as you cannot spot landmarks and have to purely rely on the GPS. Choosing the right path amongst multiple trails is a big ask. Biker’s too found it to be a big challenge and C S Santosh says “Riding in the dark can be a bit disorienting in the Desert.”
Team Maruti’s Suresh Rana & Ashwin Naik, Niju Padia & Neerav Mehta from Gujarat and Team Polaris’ Raj Singh Rathore and Rihen Bhardwaj emerged as winners in the car category’s T1, T2 and T3 respectively. Dakar rally finisher CS Santosh, and Jes David from Jaipur picked up the top trophies in bikes, while Pramod Joshua was the winner in quad. The organisers also gave away Tuner trophies for each category.
Living up to the standard of the world class concept of Baja, organizers of Northern Motorsport, Jayesh Desai and Raj Kapoor made it an experience to remember with a special focus on safety - every stage had fully equipped ambulances and intervention vehicles, and prior to the event, a day was set aside for marshal training as well. Northern motorsport has also been successfully conducting the very popular “Rally Desert Storm” that runs across this beautiful yet pristine state of Rajasthan.
India Baja is sure to get bigger next year. It event promises to pull in international competition from next season, this edition has already created a buzz to become the next big thing after F1 in India. The organizers are also reportedly in advanced talks with the Dakar rally’s organizing team to ensure that India, and the India Baja become an event on the world motorsports map. Now that will be a treat to motorsport fans in the country.
Shams Naqvi is an anchor/producer for the News X motor show Living Cars.