Mahindra’s return to cross-country rallying is wonderful news and hopefully hints at a shift in attitudes regarding competition among manufacturers in Indian motorsport.
It’s a common sound bite among those in sports, and even in general, that the only person you are competing with is yourself. How one should strive to be the best version of oneself, and the only reason you should look back is to see how far you have come. But we all know the truth. The only reason people even bother with self-improvement is because there is a benchmark they are trying to reach or beat one that has been set by someone else. Competition, when taken in the right spirit and with fairness and a willingness to not sour your relationship with people outside of a competitive arena, is a good thing. In fact, it is a great thing. Do I even need to tell you this in the context of motorsport? Forget the international arena. Just think about India itself and some contemporary examples – TVS Racing versus Hero MotoSports Team Rally in the Desert Storm and India Baja. Even though they don’t use the same kind of bikes, seeing CS Santosh battle against his counterparts representing TVS adds to the excitement in a rally event. That buzz just wouldn’t be there if TVS was competing all by itself and against privateers. Now magnify this to international events like the Dakar Rally and even the Merzouga and OiLibya rallies, where Hero and TVS riders compete against each other as well as the best of the best from around the world. Can you honestly say that the Dakar Rally would have the same appeal if every rider rode a KTM or if every driver in the field was in a car from the same brand? Porsche and Audi went at it tooth and nail in the World Endurance Championship and will do so again in Formula E despite being part of the same automotive group.
Coming back to India, Mahindra has no problem competing in the FMSCI Indian National Rally Championship despite the presence of Volkswagen Motorsport India’s customer rally program and even the odd manufacturer entry when VW decides to enter a Polo rally car built to R2 specifications. And this is despite the fact that Mahindra is competing with an XUV 500! All they care about is making sure they have the best drivers possible and prep their machines as best they can, before competing against a much nimbler vehicle. It always makes me and Indian motorsport fans more invested in an event when there’s a presence of different vehicles representing a manufacturer in rallies. Because then and only then we can expect a fair and tough competition with an unpredictable result. And given the background behind Mahindra’s hiatus from cross-country rallying, it makes me extremely glad to see them back in the mix at events like the Dakshin Dare and the Raid de Himalaya.
How does one not welcome the news of a driver of Gaurav Gill’s calibre in action and potentially competing against Suresh Rana, Maruti-Suzuki’s top man in cross-country rallying, whose eyes light up every time the prospect of competing against the likes of Gill and Sandeep ‘Sunny’ Sidhu? In fact, such is the pull of manufacturers in rallying that Mahindra once even managed to rope in former Production World Rally Championship title winner Karamjit Singh to drive at the Desert Storm in 2013. Going up against and beating competition like that is the whole point of motorsport, and the automotive industry in general, after all.