Consolidating the gains made by the first two editions of the Rain Forest Challenge India was the theme of a dramatic third edition of the premier off-roading event in the country.
If the theme for the inaugural editon of the Rain Forest Challenge was getting India introduced to a new level in off-road motorsport and the second was about raising the bar even higher, then the third running of the event could be billed as keeping the momentum going. Because there are behind the scene factors that threaten to make the future of the event uncertain, such as title sponsorship from Force Motors. Not to mention the extreme competitive spirit of the competitors, which sometimes make them overlook the big picture.
Ashish Gupta and Cougar Motorsport are doing what they can to try and cover the possibility of going it alone by organizing the 4X4 Week around RFC India. The intent being to host this as an Auto Expo for SUV manufacturers as well as off-roading accessories retailers and distributors. The possibility of the event moving outside of Goa has also been looked into, with Bangalore as a likely destination. However, given how easy the logistics are for people during the event in Goa as well as the level of hospitality available, there is also a thought to just keep the event in Goa while looking for new terrain to test the competitors.
As far as Force Motors are concerned, the tension created by Gerrari running them close in the previous editions and events that unfolded after the conclusion to the 2016 event was briefly a cause for concern. Until that is, the Pune based SUV manufacturer displayed sportsmanship the likes of which has rarely been seen in Indian motorsport, which is more famous for petty and acrimonious feuds.
Not to mention their intent and desire to sign Indian drivers rather than the super capable Malaysians who compete for them now, is proof of Force Motors being invested in the future of off-roading in India. As was apparent by their signing of Kabir Waraich and Gagan Sachdeva barely three weeks before the start of RFC India.
DRAMA IN SPADES
Amid more rain over the course of the six days of competition than any previous Rainforest Challenge India editions and far more drama – even before the event started when Kabir Waraich defected to Force Motors – Chandigarh’s Gerrari Offroaders pulled off a huge upset by beating the dominant factory entered Force Motors team to win the 2016 edition of RFC India.
Gurmeet Virdi and Kirpal Singh Tung were the winning team members of the offroading outfit that had been troubling Force Motors since the first edition of India’s premier off-road motorsport event in 2014.
It was a momentous win for the privately run club of off-road enthusiasts. However, it did not come without controversy. Following the completion of the final two special stages, the team of Virdi/Tung managed to turn a 40 point defecit to the Force Motors entry of Merwyn Lim and Hamizan Abdul Bin Hamid into a eleven point lead. After the announcement of the provisional results, Force Motors protested against the starting eligibility of two competitors for the final two stages. The protest was lodged after the narrow points gap vanished as the last two stages put an onus on maneuverability, something that the modified Maruti-Suzuki Gypsy used by Virdi/Tung had in spades over Lim/Hamid who also made a crucial error on the final stage of the event.
Numerous other Gypsys and modified Mahindra Jeeps held the same advantage over the heavy and ponderous Gurkha and Lim/Hamid were bumped far enough down the order from Virdi/Tung, who finished third on both stages.
That was sufficient for the Gerrari entry to take the provisional win but protests against two entries that received outside assistance in yesterday’s Twilight Zone stage – grounds for disqualification – meant that the final result was not clear. Force Motors insisted that the two entrants – Dr. Chaitanya Challa/Shaba Von Kaipuls and Cedrick Jordan D’Souza/Floyd Preston – should not have been allowed to start the final two special stages at all. It was a point that was not brought up by the team before the stages were run but after Challa/Kaipuls posted the fastest time in both stages and D’Souza/Preston finished well ahead of Lim/Hamid, it was used as a means to get their times cancelled and put Force Motors back on top.
However, following a three hour protest period during which Force Motors representatives met with the RFC India competition committee, the team decided to withdraw their protest on the ground of sportsmanship. The decision meant that the RFC India had its first Indian winners and Force Motors went a long way in creating positive sentiment with their gesture. In fact, it is said that they even went so far as to offer Virdi/Tung to compete under their colours next year in a repeat of Waraich and co-driver Gagan Sachdeva leaving Gerrari for the factory drive.
All in all, it was an event that will not be forgotten quickly by off-road enthusiasts in the country for its drama and intense fight for the win. Here’s hoping the following editions of the event are fought just as hard but with more clarity with regards to the regulations and sportsmanship and camaraderie.
Camaraderie like the one displayed by one team in particular, Abhinav and Laxmikanth Reddy who went out of their way to make sure as many teams as possible made it out of the treacherous twilight zone stage. Hopefully it will rub off on others too.