No other sport pumps the adrenaline like motorsport and if we’re talking about Indian motorsport there’s nothing else that challenges the mettle of both the man and machine like the Maruti Suzuki Raid de Himalaya. The 18th edition of the event took place recently in the world’s highest arena rally. By that we mean the challenging route of Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, and then traversing through Ladakh over the course of 7 days. The route traverses around 2000 kms in the Himalayas in most extreme conditions. But be it the extremely high altitudes of upto 17,500 feet or temperatures that fall to as low as minus 15°C, nothing the deterred the over 240 enthusiasts who signed up for the Rally.
At the flag off in Manali, Vinay Pant, Assistant Vice President (Marketing), Maruti Suzuki India Limited said, “In a bid to encourage and challenge professional and safe adventure motorsports in the country, Maruti Suzuki has been organizing some of the world’s toughest motorsport rallies in the country. Maruti Suzuki Raid de Himalaya is one of the toughest off-road motor rallies conceptualised to enhance the thrill of professional motorsport enthusiasts in India.”
The participants would compete in three categories — Cars Extreme, Bikes Extreme and Adventure Trial. A strict scrutiny check one day prior to the flag off was mandatory to ensure safety for all the participants. The event this year once again witnessed Suresh Rana, famously known as the “Manali Man” in the motorsports circuit, nine times winner of the rally. Promising some tough competition to Rana were Sandeep Sharma and Bani Yadav known for her winning titles at various rallies. After making its mark in TSD rallies across India, Maruti Suzuki compact SUV Vitara Brezza made its debut in the Raid De Himalaya, this year.
Due to a changed schedule, the gruelling, extreme route traversed approximately 800km through some of the toughest terrains in Lahaul and Spiti valleys.
On the opening day of competition, the rallyists paced through a distance of over 200 kilometres from Manali to Kaza. The daunting hilly terrain failed to ebb the enthusiasm as competitors rallied their way to the first pit-stop in Kaza for the end of the leg on day one. Rallyist Lhakpa Tsering with navigator, Venu Ramesh Kumar lead on the first day of the action which culminated in picturesque Spiti valley. Suresh Rana and his navigator, Ashwin Naik in their Grand Vitara maneuvered the challenging tracks to a close second in the Xtreme category. The provisional scorecard on day one saw four of the top ten spots dominated by Maruti Suzuki rallyists.
On the second day, the participants continued their trek up the narrow roads as the rally moved further ahead to pass through Demul, Lingti, Sichiling to end in Kaza. The end of the second day saw Suresh Rana and Ashwin Naik ahead of the pack with an impressive lead time of 7 minutes. The duo was followed by Lhakpa Tsering and Venu Ramesh Kumar, who were trailed by Sandeep Sharma and Karan Arya. Amongst the bikers, day two was led by Abdul Wahid Tanveer, followed by R. Natraj, with a gap of 3 minutes between them. In the third spot, was Umang Saxena. Amidst the unparalleled action, the mountains also witnessed an eye-grabbing spectacle as Maruti Suzuki’s hugely popular compact SUV; Vitara Brezza rode with the rally in its debut rally season. The rally then moved to through Losar, Gramphoo, Patseo to end in Ladakh by the end of the day.
The rally was back in Manali where it concluded, with Suresh Rana and his co-driver Ashwin Naik, clinching their 10th Raid de Himalaya winner title. Their Grand Vitara clocked a total time of 03:42:02 Hrs. Chasing the lead at the second position were Tsering Lhakpa and Venu Ramesh Kumar in Polaris RZR 1000, clocking 03:49:15 Hrs, third position was bagged by Sandeep Sharma and Karan Arya at 03:51:11 Hrs in Maruti Suzuki Gypsy.
Due to a changed schedule, the gruelling Xtreme route traversed approximately 800 Kms through some of the toughest terrains in Lahaul & Spiti valleys. The treacherous terrains brought out the best synchronized relation between man and machine. In the adventure category, Jagmeet Gill and Chandan Sen took the lead driving Maruti Suzuki Swift. This was fourth consecutive win for the duo. Ajgar Ali & Mohd Mustafa in Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza and Sunder Singh & Zaman Daoud Khan also in Vitara Brezza stood at second and third position respectively. The adventure category of the rally followed the scenic route of Manali, Solang Valley, Tabo and through the sub-zero temperature of Sarchu valley. Tanveer Abdul Wahid in his TVS RTR450 won the Motoquad Xtreme followed by R Natraj in TVS RTR450 at second position and Umang Saxena at the third position riding a KTM Duke 390.
Cherishing his much coveted 10th raid de Himalaya trophy, Manali Man Suresh Rana said, “It feels good to hold my 10th Raid trophy. It is even special since I have brought the trophy home in my own city. Like always, Raid is all about incredible camaraderie and sportsmanship. We are all winners in our own rights.” All the motorsports enthusiasts participating in Raid and from across the country, the organisers and sponsors paid a tribute to Late Subhomoy Paul who had participated thrice in Raid de Himalaya and several other international motorsports challenges.
Shams Naqvi is an anchor/producer for the News X motor show Living Cars