With a competitor friendly format that has the potential to be repeated throughout the year, the first India Baja Rally teased a more accessible way to go cross-country rallying.
Are Indian rally drivers and riders and their machines capable of handling the rigours of 24 hours of non-stop racing? The answer is an overwhelming no, barring a handful, who possess the necessary skills and fitness and have the requisite hardware. At least, that’s the unpalatable reality that the India Baja mirrored brightly.
The first ever Baja to be held in India, organised by Northern Motorsports on February 13-14, ran over a cumulative competitive distance of 318.56 km for cars and 277.47 km for motos and quads around Bikaner in Rajasthan. Despite being a much tamer version than the traditional bajas held in Europe or the iconic Baja 1000, it was still challenging enough to blow away the majority of the grid on night stages that just about marked 50 per cent of the rally. Consider this: of the 28 bikes and a quad that came under the starter’s order in the moto class just 11 survived the night and of the 23 cars, only 12 made it for the morning restart.
Going into the rally, India’s top moto pilot, CS Santosh was, perhaps, the biggest attraction apart from the regulars on the rally-raid circuit such as Suresh Rana, Sunny Sidhu and Harpreet Bawa. And, living up to his top billing Santosh, riding a brand-new 2016 edition of Suzuki RMX 450Z, blitzed the field by a massive margin of 58 minutes ahead of Jes David on a KTM 390 and his former TVS team-mate and riding partner Joshua Pramod on the Suzuki 400Z quad, that the Japanese bikemaker launched a couple of months back. Santosh could have been much further ahead had his Trippy not malfunctioned close to the halfway mark in the second stage on the night of February 13.
With Joshua, despite being away from the sport for close to two years, it was heartening to see he has not lost any of the spunk or speed that defined his more than a decade-long career in motocross and supercross. The Bangalore-based rider finished third in the moto-quad class in general classification.
In the four-wheeler category, nine-time Raid de Himalaya winner, Suresh Rana topped the timesheets in the T1 class. The much-anticipated fight between Rana and Sidhu failed to materialise after latter damaged the sump of his Vitara XL7 in the first stage itself. Niju Phadia behind the wheels of a Pajero Sport took the top honours in the T2 class. Veteran of the T3 class, Raj Singh Rathore, walked away with the top honours pretty much unchallenged piloting a RZR 1000.
Much to the credit of the folks at Northern Motorsports for the smooth conduct of the first ever Baja event in India, the event also saw the debut of live tracking, which definitely enhanced the safety aspect of night rallying. Given the competitor-friendly format of the Baja, this form of off-road racing has great potential of attracting fresh blood to the sport.
Riding in the desert requires a special set of skills and technique. So, if one is not equipped with them, what does one do? Well, the short answer would be to go back to school and learn the nuances of dune skimming from those who have mastered the fine balance of desert racing. That’s precisely what the Dune School, organised by Northern Motorsports on the outskirts of Bikaner, set out to do a day before the India Baja.
The day-long session that involved theoretical and practical lessons was conducted by two of India’s finest riders – CS Santosh and Joshua Pramod. The dozen odd students who signed up for the Dune School benefited a lot as they made significant progress through the day under the watchful eyes of the two instructors.
Santosh and Joshua conducted a series of drills and exercises that aimed to hone various aspects of racing in the desert. Even experienced riders like Rehan Khan, who has been active in motocross and dirt track racing for more than 15 years, went back richer in terms of riding technique in the soft sand.
This was the first of a series of school that Northern Motorsports intends to conduct through the year. One such session is planned prior to the Desert Storm. Interested riders can write to firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.