Mahindra invites the best automotive media houses to Igatpuri for an off-road challenge. We graciously accept.
I am not the kind of person to take competition lightly – even if it is friendly. So this was going to be an all out war. Mahindra has been running an off-road training academy at their Igatpuri off-road track in Nashik, and they decided to invite the top automotive media houses to this track to compete in a friendly off-road challenge.
It seemed that I was a little over excited. I was expecting to take part in a proper off-road race or timed stage, but I was sadly mistaken. Ameya joined me in Nashik and the autoX team was complete. We were both pretty excited until we were briefed by the judges for the event. The first ever Mahindra off-road challenge was not going to be a race, but instead it was going to be a combination of different off-road stages where the teams are judged based on certain off-road driving principles and parameters – such as approach angle, winching, safety and vehicle preservation. “Ok!” I thought to myself, “this shouldn’t be so hard”, but once again I was wrong – as I were to realize later.
The next day we headed to the training academy track. All-in-all, we were supposed to complete 5 different stages that had different challenges and missions. It all seemed like fun and games, but you could see the teams huddled up amongst themselves planning out how to take on each stage. That was probably the first sign that this was indeed going to be a battle. To keep things fair every team was given a Mahindra Thar that was mechanically identical.
The first stage was fairly simple – all we had to do was cross a small water body, climb up a fairly steep muddy hill and then traverse over some massive dips before finally climbing up a steep ledge to reach the finish line. Each driver from each team drew a number before each stage to decide the starting order. There was also a time limit in which each time had to complete the stage.
The length of the first stage track might not have been even 100 meters, but each team took about 2 minutes to complete it. There were three judges and they all stood at different locations of the track so they could observe each team and give them scores. There were 13 teams in all – and we all completed the first stage with ease. All I had to do was switch to 4 low and keep the car in first gear the whole way up the course.
The second stage was by far the most difficult – this was the winching stage. Not everyone knew how to operate a winch, so we were given a crash course in the subject. One of the judges would drive a Thar into a deep slushy mud pit, and then we had to get it out. The catch was that we could winch it out from either side, but the Thar that was stuck had to cross the finish line, which was located in front of it and over a very steep hill – it seemed almost impossible. We drew numbers again and luckily we got positioned 12th, so we could watch and observe how the others would do. Every team managed to get the Thar out of the slush pit, but they could not manage to get it over the steep incline and past the finish line. Ameya and I observed what everyone was doing wrong – they were disobeying the laws of angles and physics. We came up with a plan and awaited our turn.
Finally we were up, and after a motivating nod to each other we went to our vehicles and began the round. The time limit for the winching round was 10 minutes, and no other team was able to complete it. As our time began, we successfully winched the Thar out of the mud pit with ease, but then we did something no one else had done. We repositioned the winching vehicle so that it would pull the stranded Thar straight up the steep incline – instead of at an angle, which everyone else had done. It did take us some time to reposition the vehicle but we moved fast and reconnected the winch and started pulling the Thar up the hill. I shouted and cursed at Ameya to move forward and wiggle the steering wheel, and with just 10 seconds left to go the stranded Thar inched towards the finish line and finally crossed it. Everyone applauded us and we were very happy – our faces were bright red from the yelling and smiling. There was however one more team after us, and would you believe it – they used the exact same approach we did and they managed to complete the winching round as well – but at least autoX set the benchmark.
Since no other team was able to complete the winching round in time, there was only enough time left for one more stage. The judges decided that we take on the most challenging driving stage – a track called the ‘Boneyard’. The name does sound intimidating, and believe me when I tell you that it is probably the most intense off-road track I have ever attempted to drive. The track is a loop that begins with a deep water crossing. You then face a steep climb up a hill with a gradient of almost 60 to 70 degrees, complete with deep trenches and massive muddy boulders. Once you are able to complete the climb you go over a section of bumps almost 2 feet in height and then you have to maneuver around a very sharp turn and head back down hill over some more deep trenches and high bumps before crossing the water body again and the finish line. Each team was given 5 minutes to complete the stage. This time around we were positioned 3rd to start. Crossing the water body was easy, but as we approached the steep climb we got stuck for about a minute. I kept trying to back up a few inches and move around a massive mud mount in front of us but the Thar would not budge, even in 4WD – I began to worry. I decided to reverse a couple of metres and push even harder this time, and finally we made it over and moved further up the hill. From there on the track was a piece of cake and we finished well in time. Other teams weren’t so lucky and they were not able to complete the climb of the Boneyard. We were very happy that autoX was one of the only 3 teams to complete all 3 stages. The day was ours.
Even though we didn’t win, it was a good day with some fun and exciting challenges. The Mahindra off-road Academy is a very nice place to learn how to drive on proper off-road tracks, and in case you’re interested in giving it a shot, Mahindra conducts special courses for people who are interested in off-road adventure.