The 15th edition of the Maruti-Suzuki Desert Storm was flagged off yesterday at the Great India Place mall in Noida with 101 competitors across four categories registered to line-up for the start of the cross-country rally near Hanumangarh in Rajasthan today.
The Desert Storm will start today and make its way to Jodhpur by 4 February where it will conclude.
Out of the four categories, the focus will be on the Moto and Xtreme classes that will feature motorcycles and cars that have been prepped to race the clock as fast as possible instead of following a Time-Speed-Distance format like the competitors in the Ndure and Xplore classes.
Suresh Rana - a ten-time winner of the Raid de Himalaya as well as of four Desert Storms - is the main attraction in the Xtreme class but has stiff competition from the likes of Gaurav Chiripal, Aabhishek Mishra, Sandeep Sharma, Sanjay Agarwal as well as Amanpreet Ahluwalia.
The Grand Vitara is expected to be the dominant vehicle in the Xtreme class but there are also private (with some factory backing) entrants in Isuzu's D-Max V-Cross, the usual gaggle of Gypsys and a Swift with backing from Maruti-Suzuki.
CS Santosh - former national super-cross champion, Raid de Himalaya winner, two-time Dakar Rally finisher as well as a three-time winner of the Desert Storm - will headline the entrants in the Moto class, particularly on account of taking part in the event on the same Hero-Speedbrain 450 Rally bike with which he finished this year's Dakar Rally in South America earlier this month.
Also in the Moto class is TVS Racing's R Nataraj, a Raid de Himalaya winner himself in 2015 and expected to be the next rider groomed by TVS for international participation like Aravind KP.
Hero MotoSports Rally has also entered Sathyaraj A in the Desert Storm, on board a 223cc Hero Impulse that has been specially prepped for the rally that will feature over 700 kilometers of timed distance over 11 special stages (SS).
Among these stages, SS7 - that will start from around Moka and run past Turko ki Basti - will be nearly 200 km long with the additional challenge of a modification to the navigation system in the rally.
Rather than being given the entire track of the rally that can be seen on a GPS device, competitors will only be provided with specific GPS points that they will have to get to through terrain that will cover everything from hard packed sand, loose sand and dunes.
The event has been sponsored by Exxon Mobil as well as State Bank of India aside from title sponsorship by Maruti-Suzuki and is organized by Northern Motorsport.