The Raid de Himalaya occupies a special place on the Indian motorsport calendar, attracting three-digit participants every year for a gruelling event in some of the coldest regions of the country.
Despite the coming and going of high profile track racing events, motorsport in India has always been synonymous with events that go off the beaten track, so to speak. Out of these, one event that stands out of the rest is the Raid de Himalaya.
The cross-country rally, first held in 1999 – after events like the Great Desert Himalaya and the Himalayan Rally had kicked off the cross-country craze - boasts of being one of the toughest rallies in the world. And it remains true to its claim.
For the Raid amalgamates landslide-prone, gravel roads with freezing temperatures of the highest mountain range in the world. Drivers and riders cover a distance of around 2,000 kms over six days, out of which about 600 kms is timed in form of special stages.
Further, participants were required to stay in tents for two consecutive days in Rangdum, an isolated region of Ladakh where the temperature remains below freezing for months. Add long driving hours to the equation and you get a perspective of how tough this rally is.
The arduous nature of the Raid is best explained by Suresh Rana, nine-time winner of this gruelling event: “The terrain is very rough and challenging. You need to be physically fit to withstand temperatures of -20 to -30C. Also, mental toughness and having a strong car underneath yourself is just as important.”
No wonder, out of the 151 participants, roughly half made it to the chequered flag, with many dropping out well before the first leg was completed.
Polaris ends Maruti’s reign
Maruti Suzuki’s contribution in forging the Raid de Himalaya as one of the biggest motorsport events in the country is indelible. However, there have been attempts to kill competition by the event’s title sponsor, which has driven other car makers out of the flagship Xtreme Cars category.
However, Polaris seems to be undeterred, assaulting this year’s Raid with a slew of off-road vehicles. And star driver Raj Singh Rathore duly paid back the faith instilled in him, ending Maruti’s stranglehold at the event.
Suresh Rana, however, was discontent with the result, saying dedicated off-road vehicles from Polaris shouldn’t be allowed to compete with Xtreme category.
“There is some issue with the Polaris, whose vehicles are specially designed for off-road use,’’ he told autoX. ”I don’t think they should be included in the Xtreme Car results; there should be a different category for them, as in Baja 1000.”
In an attempt to catch Rathore, Rana flipped his Grand Vitara on leg 5, losing 23 minutes to Rathore on a single day. The resulting damage meant that Rana lost a further five minutes on the final leg of the rally, eventually finishing 26 minutes and 54 seconds behind in third place.
Naturally, Rathore had a different view: “We are driving a Polaris RZR 1000 Turbo and it is one of the best vehicles here,’’ Rathore was quoted by autoX shortly after receiving the winner’s trophy. “We have improved our game, allowing us to beat Maruti by a sizeable margin of 26 minutes. Also, I don’t understand why we should be categorised separately.”
A better alternative
Rumours have been circling of Maruti turning the Raid into a one-make rally. A better alternative, however, should be considered - one which suits Maruti and allows other manufacturers to compete on equal footing at the same time.
Given the number of entries, a separate subcategory for the Gypsy can be considered, which competes against cars from other manufacturers for the overall win in the Xtreme category. The Grand Vitara or anyother Maruti vehicles may continue to compete in the same class.
Likewise, a separate main category for Quads can be introduced, similar to the format used in the Dakar Rally. However, efforts should be made to ensure there are enough entries apart from those by Polaris - who have heavily invested in the Raid - and hence deserves to reap the success in the Xtreme Cars category.
Until then, it is better to club them with other four-wheel vehicles.
Arvind’s winning spree
Bengaluru-born Arvind KP has been on a winning spree this year, emerging on the top step of the podium in almost every event that has come his way.This includes the Dakshin Dare and National Motocross.
Now, with the Raid de Himalaya trophy finding a place in his already illustrious cabinet, Arvind is evaluating his plans for the future, with the Dakar Rally very much on his radar.
The TVS rider, however, is aware of the challenges of the South American cross-country rally, and intends to take part in other rallies around the world to prepare himself better for the future.
“Firstly, we want to do a few rallies around the world and look at how we go into it,’’ Arvind told autoX after crossing the finish line in first place. “As we (TVS) are developing engine parts and bikes, so we will run a few rallies. By the outcome of it, we might think of probably getting into Dakar and a few more rallies. So that’s the plan. Let see.”
But competing in motorsport internationally remains an expensive affair. And Arvind is pinning his hopes on sizeable financial backing from long time supporters TVS, who tied up with France’s Sherco Racing for this year’s Dakar rally.
“Should be,’’ he said on an affirmative note. “It is very expensive to get into Dakar. So with TVS backing me up, it will certainly help me do wonders (laughs).”
Arvind’s potential, coupled with CS Santosh’s plans for a second assault at the Dakar - if he can find the necessary sponsorship - can prelude to some good news for Indian motorsport. With next generation of open-wheel race stars, Arjun Maini and Jehan Daruvala still competing in juniour categories, perhaps these two riders can put India on the global map in the interim future, albeit in a different discipline of motorsport.
No plans to conduct races
Maruti Suzuki is mostly involved in hosting rallies and off-road events, with the Raid de Himalaya being the most prestigious event it is associated with. And the company has no plans to change its approach towards motorsport, with the idea of venturing into race promotion ruled out by a top official.
“Right now these are the only formats we do. We don’t have any plan currently of changing from this,’ Aditya Aggarwal, General Manager, Maruti Suzuki told autoX. “We will stick to events like the Dakshin Dare, Raid and the Desert Storm. We have road or city formats like Autocross. We also have simpler formats like the Treasure Hunt, Women’s Rally - less of endurance competition and more of fun.”
Despite everything, the Raid de Himalaya remains one of the best motorsport events
in the country - purely on the basis of the challenging conditions. A combination of unforgiving terrain and extreme weather conditions makes it a true test of man and machine, not allowing anyone to rest on his laurels.
As Arvind KP sums it up: “When you take it easy, it will hit you hard.”