Nine-time 'Raid' champion Rana to again vie for title
Manali, Oct 5 (IANS) Ace rallyist Suresh Rana, who captured the Maruti Suzuki Raid-de-Himalaya nine times in the four-wheeler X-treme category, and last year's champion Tsering Lhakpa are among the participants in the 18th edition of the rally, beginning here on October 9, organisers said on Wednesday.
In the bike X-treme category, 2014 champion R. Natraj is among the 57 bikers. Among them are six women dare-devils from Mumbai.
Billed as one of the toughest off-road motor rallies in the world, the six-leg Raid-de-Himalaya will run through the most hostile and high altitude desert of Spiti and Lahaul in Himachal Pradesh and Zanskar and Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir.
It will conclude at the flag-off point on October 14 after traversing 2,000 km. A few stretches will pass through some of the highest and toughest motorable roads -- the Jalori Pass, Rohtang Pass, Kunzum la, Baralacha la, Tanglang la and Khardung la.
"This time also the route is difficult and the pressure upon the participants is extreme," Manjeev Bhalla of the Himalayan Motorsport Association, the Shimla-based club that annually organises the rally, told IANS.
For the first time the rally would start from Manali, skipping Shimla.
"Actually we have to abandon certain stretches in Kullu district as the traffic in that area has increased manifold. The rest of the rally route this time is almost the same as in the past," he said.
The four-wheeler X-treme category has 30 participants, of whom only 25 per cent of the starters normally finish the 'Raid'. The overwhelming favourites include Amanpreet Ahluwalia, Harpreet Bawa, Major Amrinder Singh Brar and Sandeep Sharma, Lt. Col Shakti Bajaj and Amartejpal Buwal.
Ace motorist Suresh Rana and navigator Ashwin Naik will be seen together again.
They were together during the 2010, 2011 and 2013 'Raids', too. The former is from Manali and the latter from Mangalore.
Rana, who won the race five times on the trot till 2008, will be driving a Grand Vitara.
"Surviving in the extreme cold climatic conditions with low oxygen in high altitude is really challenging for a motorist," Rana, who runs a motor garage in Manali, told IANS.
Woman rallyist Shuchi Thakur of Dharamsala is among the motorsport competitors in the four-wheeler X-treme category.
She is competing for the 12th time and will race for the top spot driving her Maruti Gypsy along with navigator Shahid Salman.
In all, 152 riders will compete with 108 participating in the X-treme four-wheeler and two-wheeler categories and 44 in the adventure category, which started only in 2013.
In the adventure SUV category, Chandigarh's Jagmeet Gill and his navigator Chandan Sen are participating. They are competing in a Maruti Swift.
Jagmeet Gill and his navigator Chandan Sen have captured the title thrice consecutively.
Besides Natraj, who was second last year, the top contenders in the bike X-treme category include Abdul Wahid Tanveer and Rohit Gowda.
The 'Raid' is open to professionals as well as amateur motorsport lovers. It runs in two categories: X-treme and adventure trial.
'Raid' X-treme, which runs a marathon format with special stages sometimes longer than 100 km, is all about speed, while adventure follows the TSD (time-speed-distance) format.
The Raid-de-Himalaya is the only Asian motor sport event listed in the off-road rallies calendar of the Switzerland-based FIM (Federation Internationale Motorcyclisme), which captures the attention of the international rallying circuit.