Shimla, Oct 1 – The 14th edition of the Maruti Suzuki Raid-de-Himalaya, one of the world’s toughest rallies, sets out on the rugged Himalayan ranges from here Oct 7.
The Himalayan Motorsport Association, the Shimla-based club which has organised the rally since its inception, has just now woken up to the requirements of providing world-class safety apparatus to the participants by keeping a helicopter on standby.
But members of the motorsport circles say still other aspects of the safety requirement like specially-trained personnel and specialised equipment to come to the rescue of rallyists, who are unfortunate to meet an accident, are missing.
Two motorists, who were taking part in the Mughal Rally, another annual feature of the Himalayan Motorsport, lost their lives in July this year because they couldn’t be rescued in time owing to the lack of the rescue staff and equipment.
Bangalore-based rally driver Jitender Shukla and navigator Ashish Mahajan perished when their vehicle rolled down a steep cliff just two km from the finish in Jammu and Kashmir.
Ramandeep Bajwa, a journalist who covered the ‘Raid’ in 2009, said the rescue at high altitudes needs specialised equipment like recovery trucks and a trained mountaineering rescue team.
“Driving at high altitudes at a high speed requires a lot of concentration. The rally organisers should plan a rally in such a way that the participants get proper rest and ensure a reasonably safe passage without removing the thrill.
“The legs of the forthcoming ‘Raid’ are quite taxing. It seems that the driver has less time to take rest leave apart taking care of vehicle’s wear and tear. How can you simply ignore the human factors like fatigue?
In the Mughal rally, the reason for the accident was fatigue,” Bajwa added.
A motorist, who has been participating in the ‘Raid’, said in the case of Shukla and Mahajan, neither could they be taken out of their vehicle fast enough for lack of specialised rescue tools and trained personnel, nor could they be taken to hospital quickly.
“Stringent safety features like specially-trained personnel and specialised equipment have been missing in the ‘Raid’ in all these years to cut costs. Still it’s lacking,” said the rallyist, who did not want to be identified.
He said many drivers have been complaining in the previous rallies that the organisers didn’t plan the rally well enough and they were forced to drive long hours with bare minimum safety.
The ‘Raid’ is held in two categories — X-treme and Adventure.
In the X-treme category, the participants have to negotiate six mountain passes, including Tanglang La (17,582 ft), this time.