The cliche of ‘the show must go on’ was re-enforced at the fifth edition of the Rain Forest Challenge India.
Jagat Nanjappa and co-driver Chetan Changappa won the 2018 Isuzu Rain Forest Challenge India at Goa, taking their maiden RFC India title ahead of Mervyn Lim/Alex Tan and former two-time winners Gurmeet Virdi/Kirpal Singh Tung.
But to talk about just the competitors this time around, the fifth edition of RFC India, would be unfair. As there was a similarly gritty effort behind the scenes to ensure that the event didn’t fall flat on its face.
A jittery and ultimately non-committal title sponsor made things tricky. As did having to find a last-minute replacement. Then there was lost equipment on account of a nationwide transport strike, heavier than expected rain and subsequent river flooding, and let’s not forget angry Goans threatening to stop the event mid-way. All of this was enough to make Cougar Motorsport’s (the event organizer) main man Ashish Gupta think if all the trouble was even worth it.
His frustration was very apparent in his speech at the post-event press conference, when he recounted how fans of local participant Cedrick Jordan Da Silva were threatening to disrupt the event unless his exclusion from a stage for a late start was overturned.
Even though Da Silva was allowed to continue to avoid things turning ugly, he was ultimately stripped of all his points in the final standings. One would be forgiven for thinking that the RFC India is done with Goa or Gupta will call it quits. Those fears were thankfully allayed to raucous applause when Gupta announced a further four editions.
A popular win
It was a tense but ultimately cathartic end to a hard fought event that saw former national motorcycle rally champion Nanjappa stand victorious and win `7 lakh (converted from 10,000 USD as per current exchange rates) prize fund to cover the cost of competing in the RFC Grand Final that will be held in Malaysia from 23rd November to 4th December.
With 2,006 points out of a maximum possible 2,600 from the 26 special stages run from 22nd to 28th July, former national motorcycle rally champion Nanjappa and co-driver Changappa improved on their overall second-place finish last year.
Lim/Tan’s tally of 1,849 points gave them the runner-up position after they finished fifth overall last year. Extreme weight saving measures taken for their FJ40, which was fitted with a V-8 engine from a Landcruiser, allowed them to run a much lighter car than last year. Tipping the scales at 1,800kgs, the weight saving worked enough to even leapfrog last year’s winners Virdi/Tung who tallied 1,800 points.
Changes to the format of the event, in which the favourites for victory were not allowed to follow each other into a stage, following complaints by participants of rivals being able to observe and learn before taking their turn, led to the fancied runners falling behind after the first day.
The opening day was held at Dukle Off-Road Track at Kumbhari Village in Sanguem and saw a delay in the start of the stages, owing to the sudden rise in water levels due to heavy rain. Consequently, the opening four special stages were run late at night, along with the stage planned for the following day. The continued rise in water levels prevented competitors from crossing back until late morning.
It was an additional challenge on top of the camping equipment and other event paraphernalia getting waylaid on account of the truck carrying it from Delhi to Goa being caught up in the national transporter’s strike. In fact, even as the event ended, the truck was still not located. It was only after the Cougar Motorsport team (event organisers) had left Goa that the truck finally reached.
Early leaders Sanbir Singh Dhaliwal/Gurpartap Singh Sandhu fell behind after a string of DNFs that saw their lead, after the first nine special stages, evaporate. Nanjappa/Changappa assumed the lead and didn’t look back, as Lim/Tan and Virdi/Tung battled it out for the runner-up spot.
Dhaliwal/Sandhu ultimately were fourth overall ahead of Dr. Chaitanya Challa/Shabarish Jagarapu. Just outside of the top five was the team of Chow Ujjal Namshum/Ingpeng Mein of MOCA. Namshum and Ingpeng were the best performing rookie team at the RFC India.
Tejas Prakash Shindolkar and Yogesh Prakash Nadkarni were seventh overall, while N Abinav Reddy and T Laxmikanth Reddy were tied with Cedrick Jordan DaSilva/Floyd Preston for eighth overall. Bijender Singh/Gajender Singh completed the top ten.
As the curtain came down on the event, the question whether or not a venue other than Goa should be considered became quite evident. South India already provides its fair share of competitors through off-roading clubs and has appropriate terrain. North-East India could be an option as well as one can expect to find more than ample rain and forests there, along with the kind of remoteness that would really up the stakes of the event.
So far, course-master David Metcalfe and his band of ‘merry men’ have managed to create enough variation within the familiar locations that the RFC India has visited. And the infrastructure in Goa, along with its location, has made it logistically viable so far, although that may be replicable further south.
In North-East India that’s likely to be less so, although the upcoming Rain Forest Trophy in mid-October will likely serve as a recce for the region’s viability as a future RFC India venue. For now, however, the event has established itself in Goa and very firmly in the Indian motorsport calendar as a highlight event. Hopefully, there’ll be fewer glitches next time.