Maruti-Suzuki Desert Storm 2018

The 2018 Maruti-Suzuki Desert Storm saw unexpected faces at the front, and some introspection about the event format. Carnage is probably too strong a word, but it would come close to describing how the 2018 Maruti-Suzuki Desert Storm played out in terms of the pre-event favourites.

By Vinayak Pande | on May 2, 2018 Follow us on Autox Google News

Photography: Vinayak Pande

The 2018 Maruti-Suzuki Desert Storm saw unexpected faces at the front, and some introspection about the event format.

Carnage is probably too strong a word, but it would come close to describing how the 2018 Maruti-Suzuki Desert Storm played out in terms of the pre-event favourites. Indeed, had it not been for TVS Racing’s Lorenzo Santolino finishing second overall in the Moto class, we’d have had no representation from any major factory team on either two wheels or four. 

Suresh Rana, CS Santosh, Tanveer Abdul Wahid, R Nataraj, Sandeep Sharma . . . the list of big retirements just went on and on. Away from the Group A category in the Moto Class, not even any of TVS Racing’s Group B riders made it to the finish. That led to the unexpected sight of a Group C rider – Mohan Lal Sharma – classified fourth overall. 

Once the dust settled, Abhishek Mishra and co-driver V Venu Rameshkumar were crowned winners of the Xtreme category as well as the T1 category for four-wheel drive vehicles, with an engine capacity of over 1850cc. 

Mishra won his third Desert Storm in his Maruti-Suzuki Grand Vitara at the end of the 24.6km special stage 10, which made up the fifth and final leg of the rally. 

The pre-event favourites for the Xtreme category, Maruti-Suzuki Motorsport’s Rana and co-driver P.V. Srinivas Murthy retired during the third leg on Wednesday, when their Grand Vitara suffered an engine failure. 

Storm Moto 2

In fact, by the end of the fourth leg of the rally all officially entered Maruti-Suzuki competitors were forced to retire due to one manner of technical failure or another. It has been rumoured that Rana is due for an upgrade in terms of machinery, and with Mahindra re-entering cross-country rallying this year, the upgrade will definitely be needed. 

Mishra finished the total competitive distance of 770.93km with a total time of 11hrs. 15min. 54sec. over the course of five days (19th to 23rd March).

Finishing second overall, just under 35 minutes less than that of Mishra was Raj Singh Rathore and co-driver Sagar Mallappa in their Isuzu D-Max V-Cross. 

Rathore’s challenge for victory was compromised when the emergency cut-off switch in his V-Cross automatically activated just 200 meters towards the end of the fifth special stage of the rally. It took him and Mallappa at least 15 minutes to ascertain the problem before they could resume. 

However, there was some consolation for Rathore, as he was the winner in the T2 category for vehicles with an engine capacity of over 1350cc. The major challenge for the D-Max V-Cross to really compete for an overall win is the weight of the vehicle and its massive rear overhang. The relatively soft suspension also makes it a little hard to throw the car into corners. At the moment there’s little that privateers can do to push the development of the car any further. 

Storm Xtreme 2

In third place overall and second in T2, over 45 minutes behind Rathore was Niju Padia and co-driver Nirav Mehta from the Desert Raiders team in their 2013 model year Mitsubishi Pajero. Padia had won the Royal Rajasthan Rally in February.

The Moto Class saw a much closer gap between the winner and runner-up, as Ang’ata Racing’s Aaron Mare beat Santolino by just five minutes after nine and a half stages (the ninth Moto stage was run only till half distance) of rallying that resulted in a total distance of 710.42km over the five days of the rally. 

They were also the top two finishers in the Group A class for bikes with up to 450cc engine capacity. Mare crossed the flying finish of the final stage with his KTM right at the tail of Santolino’s RTR 450 FX. 

However, Mare’s victory probably can’t be deemed entirely unexpected. Certainly not with the kind of preparation and funding that Ang’ata Racing seemed to have at their disposal. 

Santosh was leading the event at the end of the third leg on Wednesday but was forced to pull-out after a fall towards the end of the stage that led to a neck injury. Not wanting to risk his health for upcoming rally events, the three-time Dakar Rally finisher decided to err on the side of caution.  

In third place overall and also in the Group A class was Sanjay Kumar on Ang’ata Racing’s KTM 450 Rally Replica. The rally was far from plain sailing for Kumar, as the bike was visibly struggling in stage six as it was stuck in third gear as TVS’ Tanveer Abdul Wahid passed him on the track itself in special stage six. Wahid was, however, forced to retire as his RTR 450 FX later suffered an engine failure. 

Overall Top10 Moto 2W

The final stage saw heartbreak for Ashish Raorane who was fourth overall after the completion of leg four yesterday. His 450cc KTM’s engine seized just three kilometres from the end of the stage and the rally itself. He was a non-finisher but was still 15th out of the 18 classified finishers after incurring heavy penalties. 

Closing with Raorane allows us to segue into talking about navigation. With Santosh, Aravind KP, Hero and TVS Racing taking the leap to international cross-country events, this has become a topic of debate, given how events like the Dakar Rally are run on a road-book-only system of navigation, along with off-piste sections. In order for riders – at least in the Group A class that fields up till 450cc motorcycles – to get a taste of what they can expect in events like the Merzouga and OiLibya Rally (Dakar qualifiers), there has been talk of doing away with GPS navigation. And riding in off-piste sections would test riders more, rather than just follow one single track through a stage.   

Overall Top10  Xtreme 4W

Tags: Motorsports

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